[Marxism] Caring too much. That's the curse of the working classes | David Graeber | Comment is free | The Guardian
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 11 07:19:56 MDT 2014
Caring too much. That's the curse of the working classes
Why has the basic logic of austerity been accepted by everyone? Because
solidarity has come to be viewed as a scourge
The Guardian, Wednesday 26 March 2014 16.40 EDT
"What I can't understand is, why aren't people rioting in the streets?"
I hear this, now and then, from people of wealthy and powerful
backgrounds. There is a kind of incredulity. "After all," the subtext
seems to read, "we scream bloody murder when anyone so much as threatens
our tax shelters; if someone were to go after my access to food or
shelter, I'd sure as hell be burning banks and storming parliament.
What's wrong with these people?"
It's a good question. One would think a government that has inflicted
such suffering on those with the least resources to resist, without even
turning the economy around, would have been at risk of political
suicide. Instead, the basic logic of austerity has been accepted by
almost everyone. Why? Why do politicians promising continued suffering
win any working-class acquiescence, let alone support, at all?
I think the very incredulity with which I began provides a partial
answer. Working-class people may be, as we're ceaselessly reminded, less
meticulous about matters of law and propriety than their "betters", but
they're also much less self-obsessed. They care more about their
friends, families and communities. In aggregate, at least, they're just
To some degree this seems to reflect a universal sociological law.
Feminists have long since pointed out that those on the bottom of any
unequal social arrangement tend to think about, and therefore care
about, those on top more than those on top think about, or care about,
them. Women everywhere tend to think and know more about men's lives
than men do about women, just as black people know more about white
people's, employees about employers', and the poor about the rich.
A Response to David Graeber
Has the Working Class Really Accepted Austerity?
by SUREN MOODLIAR
David Graeber answers the provocative title question affirmatively in a
recent Guardian op-ed, “Caring too much. That’s the curse of the working
classes” (3/26/2014). The result of this excessive caring is “that the
basic logic of austerity has been accepted by almost everyone.” So while
others may consider solidarity to be a virtue, Graeber believes that it
is “the rope from which [the working] class is currently suspended.”
This marks something of a shift from his position on caring articulated
in his magisterial historical survey, Debt: the First 5,000 Years, where
he observes that the “non-industrious poor spent [time] with friends and
family, enjoying and caring for those they love, [thereby] probably
improving the world more than we acknowledge.”
Where “caring” prefigures the new society in Debt, it seems to anchor us
to an austere present in the Guardian op-ed. If Debt was about the
strange alchemy transmuting love into debt, this op-ed is about how
caring becomes austerity – a Gordian knot if ever there was one!
Fortunately, his austerity claims fail on several levels; the op-ed’s
premise, that the working class accepts austerity is a shaky, largely
false one. Further, even if we accept that the working class cares, it
does not mean that caring predisposes one to austerity.
Does the working class accept austerity?
It is easy to make this a fuzzy kind of question, after all, what is
“acceptance” and how do you measure it? Nonetheless, pretty
uncontroversial polling data show that working people are concerned
about budget deficits. But the same polling routinely shows that they
support policies that run contrary to the logic of austerity; today
about 73% of the US public support raising the minimum wage.
Interestingly, this has been pretty consistent over the decades. Back in
1995, Bill Clinton had 79% support for hiking the minimum wage and for
defending “entitlements”. Even where the public accepts the need for
budget cuts, they are increasingly focused on reducing the spending that
supports the powerful (rejecting tax cuts for the rich, weapons
spending, etc.). Evidence for similar sentiments can be marshalled from
around the world. The French, for example, originally elected François
Hollande based on his anti-austerity platform. On its abandonment, the
same voters either stayed home or turned to the right. To be sure there
are a number of well-worn critiques of polling straight out of freshman
sociology textbooks. However the consistency of these kinds of
results—across different political contexts, countries and
generations—and election outcomes are hard to refute. The opinions
surfaced exist in spite of overwhelming media coverage and propaganda
designed to produce just the opposite results. This speaks to the
resilience of working class solidarity and more to a rejection of
austerity – even after decades of withering assaults.
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