Archive for December, 2017

“We have always lived in the world we built for the poor”

We created a society that has no use for the disabled or the elderly, and therefore are cast aside when we are hurt or grow old. We measure human worth by the ability to earn a wage, then suffer in a world that undervalues care, community, and mutual aid. We base our economy on exploiting the labor of racial and ethnic minorities and watch lasting inequalities snuff out human potential. We see the world as inevitably riven by bloody competition and are left unable to recognize the many ways in which we cooperate and lift one another up.

When a very efficient technology is deployed against a scorned out-group in the absence of strong human rights protections, there is enormous potential for atrocity. Currently, the digital poorhouse concentrates administrative power in the hands of a small elite. Its integrated data systems and digital surveillance infrastructure offer a degree of control unrivaled in history. Automated tools for classifying the poor, left on their own, will produce towering inequalities unless we make an explicit commitment to forge another path. And yet we act as if justice will take care of itself.

From Virginia Eubanks’ book “Automated Equality,” excerpted in the January issue of Harpers magazine.

More:

[Programs] that serve the poor are as unpopular as they have ever been. This is not a coincidence: technologies of poverty management are not neutral. They are shaped by our nation’s fear of economic insecurity and hatred of the poor. [boldface mine]

The new tools of poverty management hide economic inequality from the professional middle-class public and give the nation the ethical distance it needs to make inhuman choices about who gets food and who starves, who has housing and who remains homeless, whose family stays together and whose is broken up by the state. This is part of a long American tradition. We manage the poor so that we do not have to eradicate poverty.

“Party Bus”

Shannon Raymond died in 2008. Her sister and her Mom are friends of mine.

Abuse Ranking

From the wonderful Melissa McEwan:

My go-to strategy as a younger woman was always to turn incidents of sexual harassment and/or assault into “humorous” anecdotes, which allowed me to talk about what happened without really talking about what happened.

This instinct is the result of, in part, policing women’s lived experiences, a central piece of which is inevitably abuse ranking. 

It goes like this: Your harassment wasn’t as bad as being hit and your being hit wasn’t as bad as being raped and being raped by a boyfriend isn’t as bad as being raped by a relative and being raped by a relative isn’t as bad as genital cutting…

Until many of us feel as though we aren’t allowed to say anything, unless it’s in the context of saying “I didn’t have it that bad” — to express our “good luck” if our suffering hasn’t passed some arbitrary threshold past which survivors will allegedly be allowed to express that we were affected by abuse.

This idea can be expanded: I’ve seen lots of “pain ranking” and “poverty ranking” in my day.

Holidays

Safekeeping

In this amusing piece on book “acknowledgments,” New York Times writer Jennifer Senior includes this bit of real wisdom:

Family members often make the best editors, because they can speak most bluntly to authors, and they have the next-highest stakes. Guess who has to live with you if your book gets savaged?

An editor needs to protect his or her author from ignominy.

Two thoughts on 2017

Contempt – even at its most hateful – is a form of *audacity* – and it can animate the creative imagination as truly as any other form.

That person over there doesn’t need to speak in order to beat you in an argument, only spit. You overvalue nuance and number in your vocabulary.

And one from 2015, apropos:

Liberals loathe the political Right’s hypocrisy and unfairness. Conservatives loathe the Left’s immorality and weakness. The groups’ estimations of their own qualities, though, are less precise.

The question of “hypocrisy” is particularly interesting. La Rochefoucauld noted that “hypocrisy is the respect vice pays to virtue.” One can’t be a hypocrite without recognizing that virtue – that morality – exists. This recognition it itself makes hypocrites superior (in their minds) even to decent, noble liberals who discount “morality” as dogmatic and unrealistic. Think of fundamentalist Christians who think that belief in Jesus is the sole criterion to enter heaven; one’s behaviour is beside the point. So, to the Right hypocrisy is a good thing, though they don’t say so.