Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Personal responsibility

I've been reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, her account of life lived on terms and conditions of America's working poor. As you'd expect, the material conditions of existence are pretty grim for the poor, and Ehrenreich captures their tendencies to internalize the systemic inequities and assume responsibility for them. The poor are typically demonized for being lazy, shiftless, stupid, habitually irresponsible, and generally to blame for their class status. But Ehrenreich reveals the degree to which they too often personalize their fate and ignore the exploitation that is endemic to their lot in life. Part of their problem is assuming too much responsiblity, which may be why demogogues are always proclaiming they aren't taking enough of it -- personal responsibility, in addition to being the massive oversimplication of cause and effect that it typically is, is also a class weapon against the poor, a red herring to distract them from the organizational efforts necessary for their empowerment.

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