Mar
13

Behold, the relativist wasteland

By

A number of people have taken shots at David Brooks this week for his essential cluelessness about people who are not David Brooks. Over at Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi calls Brooks’ “The Cost of Relativism” his “10 thousandth odious article about how rich people are better parents than the poor.” Taibbi writes:

Brooks then goes on to relate some of the horrific case studies from the book – more on those in a moment – before coming to his inevitable conclusion, which is that poor people need to get off the couch, stop giving in to every self-indulgent whim, and discipline their wild offspring before they end up leaving their own illegitimate babies on our lawns:

Next it will require holding people responsible. People born into the most chaotic situations can still be asked the same questions: Are you living for short-term pleasure or long-term good? Are you living for yourself or for your children? Do you have the freedom of self-control or are you in bondage to your desires?

Yes, improving your station is a simple matter self-discipline and of pulling yourself up by those bootstraps, if you have the boots. Can’t find a job? Pull together some investors and start your own business. Personal responsibility … yadda, yadda, yadda … achieve the American Dream.

The conservative cant about “personal responsibility” has long been a dog whistle for race. Not always, just mostly. It’s “a hell of a lot more abstract than” … well, you know what Lee Atwater said.

But it was another Rollineg Stone writer, Jeff Tietz, who provided in 2012 perhaps the most accessible portrait of the poor in “The Sharp, Sudden Decline of America’s Middle Class.” Set in Santa Barbara, CA, the piece profiles the nuevo homeless living out of cars in a church parking lot. They are “there, but for the grace of God” stories writ large. Maybe that setting is a tad less threatening than the inner-city images evoked when secure, well-off, white people write about poor people in the New York Times.

Aljazeera has a 2014 photo series on poverty entitled “Getting By” that gives a glimpse into just what living hand-to-mouth is like outside the imaginings of Fox News and David Brooks. They invite people to write in with their stories:

Sometimes I’m convinced that the stigma of poverty is worse than the actual conditions. In this country it’s assumed that if you’re poor, you’ve somehow earned it/deserve it … Living in poverty has been and continues to be, an intense as well as an invaluable education. My life is rich and happy.

I was raised in the middle class but have raised my own children in poverty, albeit American style. Sometimes I’m convinced that the stigma of poverty is worse than the actual conditions. In this country it’s assumed that if you’re poor, you’ve somehow earned it/deserve it — That you’re lazy, lacking intelligence or savvy,or simply doing something wrong. Or perhaps just “a loser,” reaping what you’ve sown. Living in poverty has been and continues to be, an intense as well as an invaluable education. My life is rich and happy, for the most part. Despite having left the consumer class two decades ago.

— Lisa Anthony, Iowa City, Iowa

Behold, the relativist wasteland.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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