My reply to Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay on Salon:
Helping the stupid Depression story be told
Re: To my own amazement, "Nickel and Dimed" quickly ascended to the bestseller list and began winning awards. Criticisms, too, have accumulated over the years. But for the most part, the book has been far better received than I could have imagined it would be, with an impact extending well into the more comfortable classes.
Associating oneself in anyway with you gives one working class-sympathies cred, as well as appreciative-of-one-of-America's-foremost-essaysists cred (I mean, who dislikes you?). In addition, your extended sojourn amongst the untouchables didn't leave you exempted from where you'd been previously -- back once again to being one of America's NYRB foremost. In addition, your book was warzone adventure, from someone who lived, breathed, and even ate it, all its ghastliness. You really counted flinching from the frighteningly permanently destitute such that it'd leave you ignored this time around? You're not just one of those who, no matter their success, for some reason always finds some reason to define themselves as not immoderately empowered/influential? I'm hearing even the President -- eternally hopeful, but always hamstrung -- defines himself this way, and I'm guessing it’s what people do when they want to communicate they're not at all responsible for the widespread muck they mostly actually want, or at least get some kind of weird kick from.
Look at how Laurel here debases herself to you: she's pretty much do as much to none other -- even her expecting God might be in for worse than just a few minor correctives. You're none other than one of our collectively-agreed-upon few gods, you fool. Average Middle American, indeed!
Re: A Florida woman wrote to tell me that, before reading it, she'd always been annoyed at the poor for what she saw as their self-inflicted obesity. Now she understood that a healthy diet wasn't always an option. And if I had a quarter for every person who's told me he or she now tipped more generously, I would be able to start my own foundation.
Too bad Laurel didn't chime in on this one, for she'd have said the perfectly fair and in fact just plain necessary in reminding you and this earnestly self-deluding fool that the poor don't eat healthy owing to lack of options, but because they like fatty foods to the point that in some moods they'd choose a follow-up burger over peace-neverending, but with only an apple as chaser.
Re: Even more gratifying to me, the book has been widely read among low-wage workers. In the last few years, hundreds of people have written to tell me their stories: the mother of a newborn infant whose electricity had just been turned off, the woman who had just been given a diagnosis of cancer and has no health insurance, the newly homeless man who writes from a library computer.
At what point did you pass up concluding that this aggressive flow suggested people kind of enjoyed this opportunity to showcase their suffering, and wonder if your efforts for a better America for the working class would be shortchanged owing to most of them being broadly aware that a better America would make it incrementally harder to show how nobly unspoiled and self-denying they'd become? Their wounds are real and ruinous; how every accuser's accusation is sundered by this stark, undeniable corporeal fact.
Re: In 2000, I had been able to walk into a number of jobs pretty much off the street. Less than a decade later, many of these jobs had disappeared and there was stiff competition for those that remained. It would have been impossible to repeat my "Nickel and Dimed" "experiment," had I had been so inclined, because I would probably never have found a job.
Now it's even easier to credit to yourself that those who believe you're lazy, not only don't know what they're talking about but are probably to be counted amongst those who'll burn in hell for prospering at a time when it surely means living it at the-public-at-large's expense. You'll live the rest of your life relatively prosperous and always lauded. They’ll, however, live it that much greater, truer heroes -- even if it means a 30-year shortchanged life, and most of this with some sort of missing limb or malfunctioning organ, plus a further list of afflictions not even an evil Santa could bear to count without at some point pleaing for mercy.
Re: But at least we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they're down.
Good news! This is what they can expect to receive in plenty. During the last Depression at some point everyone was for the noble, suffering poor, which is fortuitous because it's the one sort of not-entirely-inversed plentitude they can handle. They need yet more years of jaw-dropping sacrifice and self-wasting before they'll believe they've shown inner persecutors they're clearly not what they're accused of being: indulgent, greedy, self-centred -- selfish! Then, they'll be all for the next Roosevelt, who'll permit some growth -- but not that much! -- before ensuring the inacting of some giant war that'll waste away many of them as well as their kids for good, and prove beyond doubt that liberals may have a point in thinking we now might deserve better and in doing what they can to finally actually enact it. We're in for such good times, people -- we always get what we want. The rich are but toys we wind up again and again to undue the good things we've become highly anxious over possessing.