[Marxism] Caring too much. That's the curse of the working classes | David Graeber | Comment is free | The Guardian

Louis Proyect 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

         David Graeber	
         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 
fundamentally nicer.

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?

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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