Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Clive Barker: Imajica and The Thief of Always

Clive Barker. Imajica. San Francisco: Harper Prism, 1991. ISBN: 0-06-195371-6; Amazon link.
There are various reprints. Best is this one.

This is the monumental fantasy work that presents Earth as one of five parallel Dominions. It's quite a cult classic among the initiated!

The other four Dominions are already "reconciled" and the novel presents the journey made by one art dealer, Gentle, who comes to understand that he is somewhat of a Christ figure whose mission is to "reconcile" Earth with the other Dominions.

What happens when a world is "reconciled?" That's a good question. For one thing, people (and creatures - Barker is quite an admirer of evolutionary fecundity) and pass freely (using "magic") between Dominions at specific points. More important, the Dominion comes under one political and religious system (something like a Gaia). Nation states disappear, and personal lives seem to settle down into a minaturist fashion.

Early in the story, the bisexual Gentle is carrying on a love affair with androgynous (but at the beginning male) alien assassin Pie'oh'Pah. During the story Pie turns into a woman on him, but he doesn't care. He stays in love. Then Pie transforms into an alien something else. Barker's "intimate" scenes - both between species and "normal" heterosexual ones (also between Gentle and heroine Judith Odell) are among the steamiest and most passionate I've every read. Another gay male character dies of AIDS but comes back to life - quite redemptively and charismatically - during the Reconciliation.

About one third the way into the novel, Gentle and Pie start their adventure across the Dominions (in reverse order). They are fascinating to read, but after a while I began to feel they were somewhat artificial places. The 4th, 3rd, and 2nd all have a variety of landscapes expected say in California. Climates tend to be warm and dry. There are deserts, savannahs, waterways, islands, cities built like temples on mountaintops, an holy places built as towers. Skies are oddly colored and may have multiple suns. The smaller villages are interesting, as the people seem to live countrified, simplified lives as if ordered to do so by higher authority. In fact, the people (who can vary enormously in appearance, as women as well as men sometimes look like apes) seem stuck in time. In fact, the Dominions all seem stuck in time while the ruling Angels (for want of a better word) fight for control with God himself. There are battles and fights that would befit a computer game. Yet, one comes away with the feeling that the Reconciled Dominions are rather limited, fixed places, something like what a child might construct for a model railroad. One wonders if there are really whole planets and solar systems (somewhere in some universe) to support them.

There are many memorable and vivid descriptive narrative sequences, such as when Gentle stands on the platform of a train station in the Third Dominion and suddenly becomes ill, vomiting on the rails, after contemplating his meal of a fish within a fish within a fish. The writing makes the reader really experience what the characters feel. Barker is one of the world’s greatest fiction writers in his ability to metaphorize narrative.

The final showdown with God in the 1st Dominion, however, is a tour de force.

Done well, Imajica could make a terrific, visionary movie (the MPAA rating could be an issue). Imagine Di Caprio as Pie'oh'Pah and Jack Nicholson (or maybe Patrick Stewart or Michael Rosenbaum) as Gentle. I can see it as a compelling two-part serial or franchise (“The Fifth Dominion”; “The Reconciliation”) for New Line Cinema to follow “The Lord of the Rings” and it wouldn’t be a problem to recover the $150 million it would cost to make. The final showdown with Hapexamendios (who plays him?) in the crystalline "City of the Unbeheld" (putrefying under “rococo rains”) would outdo the ending of 2001. (Heaven apparently looks like a Hong Kong of high rise condominiums, however fingerpainted.) But Barker should have provided some bookmarks for his readers. Helpful would be a list of characters (there are so many of them), titles for the chapters and a table of contents, and particularly some drawings (Barker, after all, is a painter as well as author and movie director) and maps of the Imajica. (At one point Barker even says nobody has ever mapped Imajica, but that sounds like a copout. Barker must do this himself.) Harper could publish a revised edition with these materials. Or developers could build a resort in Las Vegas based on the Reconciled Dominions, and outdo the Bellagio; think of the Nsync shows.

Barker's “Chinese Puzzle” fantasy, though, still comes across as "tempting." Imagine, if you will, a journey through the other Dominions with a loved one, or with somebody you can't "have" in real life. And maybe, just maybe, Barker's theology will turn out to be "right." Indeed, as the book’s cover brags, our way of looking at reality changes forever, as well as at the afterlife. Yup, Man beats God. Get used to it. Real life matters.

There’s a particularly relevant cultural interpretation to Clive Barker’s concept of “Reconciliation” – that is, that cultures existing separately come into contact and have great effect on one another. Since this book was published in 1991 and probably written in 1989 and 1990, it certainly looks forward to the modern idea of globalization, particularly abetted by the broadband Internet. Sexual cultures are reconciled, too. Sex is no longer just a “private choice” when its meaning can be broadcast so quickly across all Dominions.

The idea of separate dominions becoming reconciled comports well with the modern physics string theory “of everything” as documented on the PBS/Nova documentary Elegant Universe, narrated by a youthful Brian Green. Bridging the gay from the physics of the large (Einstein’s general relativity) to the tiny led eventually to theories that apparently demand parallel universes, and one can “reconcile” them (cross into unseen dimensions) by contact with the “branes.”

A separate two-volume edition by Harper contains an essay by Barker explaining the “absurd ambition” of his Mahlerian masterpiece. Barker is given to diversions into philosophy, as the very first paragraph gives a philosophy of drama that seems to set up Shakespeare.

The Thief of Always (1993, Harper Collins, paper, ISBN 0061091464) is a well-known “children’s” novel. Ten year old Harvey is bored to death and fears he will die if he doesn’t have more fun. So a stranger invites him to the Holiday House, where he can celebrate every holiday (most of all Christmas) and experience all the seasons every single day. Pretty soon, he has to run for his life. Reports are that some kids consider this book “too scary.” There are rumors of an animated movie of this, but I haven’t seen it yet. It ought to get funded and made.

Phillip Longman: The Empty Cradle; Bortelo: Fertility; Santorum: It Takes a Family

Phillip Longman. The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What We Can Do About It. New York: Basic, 2004. ISBN: 0-465-0505-6

Referral website: http://www.newamericafoundation.org/index.cfm?pg=event&EveID=362; Amazon link.

Longmen here presents analysis that really is not new at all, but he provides a fresh interpretation and perspective on it. That is, that the falling birthrate (below “replacement levels”) in many countries is a threat to economic prosperity and social stability. But he is trying to argue from a liberal, progressive position rather than from a moralistic one that condemns childlessness as “selfish.”

We used to hear a lot about the “world population problem” as overpopulation, but concern for underfertility has been common in the past. Conservative Christians have only occasionally bragged a pronatalist program to increase the relative numbers of the faithful. He quotes Mary Pride as saying, “All we’d have to do is to raise children and raise them for Christ.” And Longman is right, there is a long term threat that cultures or countries that have many children at the expense of immediate standard of living will become politically and maybe militarily powerful. The people who don’t “get it” (the new self-directed culture) or who feel religiously or politically motivated will procreate more than those with higher standards of living, but the evidence that this is really happening in various regions of the world is rather ambiguous.

The fertility issue affects not just western countries, but many Asian cultures as well (such as Japan).

But the dirty little secret that still relatively few authors delve into, is how much it costs to raise children in our culture, and the new economic incentive not to have children.

“Instead, the problem is that the value created by the ‘nurturing sector’ of the economy is, in effect, being taxed away to the point that it makes less and less sense for individuals to invest or participate in it, so increasingly they don’t. (p. 138)

“…parents are expected to potty train their children, keep them quiet and well-behaved, and let the joys of parenting be their own reward… A corollary of this view is that people who decide not to have children hurt no one, or even benefit society, and so cannot be criticized…The problem with these attitudes is that they fail to account for the deepening dependency all people have on both the quantity and quality of other people’s children.” (pp. 139-140)

A bit socialistic, to be sure. And a rebuttal to my own concept of meritocratic “responsibility for the self.”

Anecdotally, when I look around I see a lot of people still having kids and being dedicated to them, and I think the problem is more than just economics. It is psychology, aesthetics, and culture. People want relationships to satisfy themselves, not just to propagate their bloodlines. Aesthetics exists in many areas with only a remote connection to children, and can add a lot to a modern culture. The modern gay community provides an example. Gradually, people have come to define themselves apart from family responsibilities, and this may become a particular problem with eldcercare, as the number of longer-living elderly increases with fewer children to support them.

Here, I must say, I have lived most of my adult gay life as one of the selfishly, unsocialized childless. Perhaps I have gotten away with something that will not be possible in the next generation.

Longman finally gets to his policy proposals, and his main one is to reduce or eliminate social security taxes for married couples with dependent children. (Libertarians, remember, want to replace social security entirely with private retirement accounts, but that would not help homemakers or with paying to raise children.) As a sidebar he visits gay marriage:

“My personal view is that a good compromise would be to sanction gay marriage, but to insist that marriage be at least an initial requirement for receiving parental benefits.” (p. 175)

His other proposals regarding health care, family businesses (working from home), and reducing suburban sprawl seem less original and controversial. He does believe that better health care would extend the working career of most adults by ten years or so and reduce the burden of caring for the elderly, but this advice applies in a society that accepts a low birth rate.

Longman here sidesteps discussion of the symbolic importance to many people of the sex act itself and its connection to actually making children. It seems that he could have made a case here for gay adoption—if you encourage adoption, you encourage more people to take the chance of having children. You also provide another brake against abortion.

This whole discussion does call up our values—how important are people “as people” compared to the values people represent. That is an important part of gay psychology. Many people would want to be parents if they knew they would have Clark Kent to raise, but the lottery of having kids doesn’t work that way. Longman, again, sees this is a collective problem, not as a moral failure of individuals, who simply are designing personal goals in line with a culture with new rules. Other writers, such as Elinor Burkett (maybe even Elizabeth Warren), will disagree as to whether society is really penalizing having children to the extent that public policy must change. From my perspective, the competitive pressure a gay singleton like me can put on families with children seems very real, since often I can work “cheaper.” So I cannot avoid the possibility of looking at this as a personal moral matter, too. Any public policy change favoring having more children has to be seen in terms of penalizing persons (like me) who don’t, which is somewhat a different bag from encouraging parents to get and stay legally married. We can sit around and speculate “what if” and imagine, with some horror, a list of such changes (some might be unconstitutional). One in particular that comes to mind could be bringing back filial responsibility laws (or enforcing existing ones in some states). Such a development could indeed become catastrophic to the gay and lesbian community unless gay marriage (and not just civil union—Longman gets that point) and gay adoption were fully legal and expected everywhere.

Some conservative commentators have noted that illegal immigration, and President Bush’s plan to allow some illegals who do our “dirty jobs” to stay, relates to the lower birth rate among the affluent and the economic pressure perceived by many to delay having children. Immigrants will have more children, and their needs for social support and especially educational support in the schools will be much greater.

Readers may enjoy this commentary by Steven E. Landsburg, “Be Fruitful and Multiply: Do the world a favor: Have more children” at http://www.slate.com/id/2037/ The Genesis verse is 1:28 (but see this commentary in Christianity Today from 2001, at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/014/4.58.html The verse is viewed as a “blessing” and not as a commandment. Then there is also the Apostle Paul’s take on fecundity at 1 Corinthians 7:9, “it is better to marry than to burn”; for example, see http://www.bereanbeacon.org/articles/better_marry_than_burn.htm

Suzanne Fields, in “Destined for the supper dish: How can our society survive an impulse for weakness,” The Washington Times, Jan. 16, 2005, reminds us that the comparative birthrates in Islamic countries is much higher, and that could eventually lead to the loss of liberty (through terrorism, war or gross political changes) of those who follow individualistic values that eschew giving a high priority to procreation and family responsibility. Radical Islam is seen as the “tiger.” Bring on the political cartoonists!

Again, Suzanne Fields writes, “Making babies in Berlin: Germany attempts to correct a dearth of births,” The Washington Times, March 27, 2005.

A related book is by Angelo Bertelo, Fertility: Power and Progress, Confidence in Life and Genius, Problems and Paradoxes, with forward by Prof. Bibek Debroy, Director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute For Contemporary Studies, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Jawahar Bhawan, Dr. Rajendra Prasad Road, New Delhi – 110001. Bertelo writes: humanity progresses when the birth rate is high; it does not progress, but regresses, when the birth rate is low, devolving towards its decadence and extinction.

You can read this book free at http://utenti.lycos.it/angelobertolo/

Ellen Nakashima, of the Washington Post Foreign Service, provides a story “With Birthrate Falling, Singapore Targets ‘Lifestyle Impotency,’ Singapore Increases Efforts to Increase Anemic Birthrate,” The Washington Post, Sept. 11, 2004, p. A13. The birthrate now is 1.25 babies per woman. The extreme work ethic, not sexual “morality”, is held to be part of the problem.

David R. Sands, “Europe’s ‘bay bust’ signals major change; Military, economic strength may falter,” The Washington Times, Nov. 24, 2005 (Thanksgiving Day) prints a chart of birthrates. The United States has a rate of 2.08 per woman, but most European countries range from 1.19 to 1.94. Paying “baby bounties” as do France and Italy and some countries seems to help minimally. The U.S. may have a high rate because of a lower population density. Psychological culture plays a role, as an urbanized culture offers many other opportunities besides family and kids. The riots in Muslim neighborhoods in France in Nov. 2005 are relevant. Kamai Daoudi, son of Algerian immigrants, was arrested for joining Al Qaeda and plotting an attack against the US Embassy in Paris; he told authorities that Muslim immigrants were regarded as cheap labor to support the “real French” when their “pyramid” gets thin as more and more turn elderly and no longer can support themselves.

Senator (R-PA) Richard Santorum has a new book It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good ( 2005, ISI, ISBN 1932236295), which begs for a natural comparison to Hilary Clinton’s “It Takes a Village (1996). Actually, the book is somewhat intended as an attack on overzealous individualism as it competes with families under the guise of social programs, or as it takes undue advantage of unsupervised use of technology (as with pornography or adult content on the Internet). Indeed, it is hard for low and moderate income families to raise their children and stay together in today’s competitive culture. Santorum, however, cannot afford to list really specific hard-nosed remedies to deal with it. We will remember Santorum’s speech supporting sodomy laws before the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision as dangerous to the stability of the family as a societal common element, and his support from the Senate floor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which died on the floor on CSPAN in July 2004. But he makes a clever nexus between gay marriage and the falling birthrates in western countries, which is even more striking in Europe. He argues that people have lost a sense of common importance and bearing with the whole natural (and biological) process of marriage, childbearing and new family formation. He seems concerned that marginal males, especially, are lured into homosexuality and upward affiliation when they could, if not “corrupted,” become fathers and heads of new families after all, despite a person perception of a competitive disadvantage. So he wants to have it both ways: marriage and family life is based on “true love” or “real life” but that love requires social ratification and freedom from competitive denigration. He could have been even more specific about the demographics: will people who don’t have their own children be assigned an even greater share of the eldercare burden in the future? Marriage may be more susceptible to too much support than he realizes.

In the high school social studies text The American Pageant (2002), David Kennert and Lizabeth Cohen discuss, toward the very end, the break down of “shared purposes” in the 60s, the rise of individualism, and the fact that the decline of the family is more than just unwed mothers. In the 1990s, one-third of all women 25-29 have never married, and three times as many adults lived alone (myself included) in the 1990s as in the 1950s. One-fourth of all children do not have two live-a-home parents (1/3 for Hispanics, 2/3 for African Americans).

David Callahan's The Cheating Culture and Elliott Currie: The Road to Whatever

The film (The Perfect Score) from Tollin / Robbins hits the market the same time as the box jellyfish sting book on business ethics and personal character by David Callahan: The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead (New York: Harcourt, 2004, ISBN 0-15-101018-8). Callahan traces the evolution of our own kind of laissez-faire, bottom-line, winner-take-all individualism and the “Trickle Down Corruption” that it generates (“Everybody does it”) ranging from academic cheating, to illegal piracy and copyright infringement on the Internet, to tax cheating, to conflicts of interest, and frank cooking of books and insider trading. The most telling chapter is probably “A Question of Character.” Business and personal ethics and even family values have to get back to a notion of “principled conscience.” A few “fair use” quotes here set the tone. “Before the 1960s, individualism in the United States was largely confined to the political sphere. Freedom for individuals … did not mean freedom to operate outside the norms established by the community, family and religion… Powerful norms of self-sacrifice shaped people’s values in this environment. You existed for your family, and you worked hard to contribute.” Soon Dr. Callahan talks about Social Darwinism, maintaining that America is unique among advanced countries in its commitment to the belief “that individuals have so much control over their destiny,” and its willingness to sacrifice people who “fail” and kick them out of the system, as if they no longer belonged in a meritocracy. Our system, he argues, is especially sadistic in its treatment of “losers” at competition; our culture of personal contempt for “losers” or “the weak” in a meritocratic system is bound to lead to ethical breakdowns. He gives as an example Enron’s “rank and yank” (or “forced-ranking”) system. Mr. Callahan’s remarks have profound implications for the way we think through issues like the “laissez-faire family” (now in conjunction with same-sex marriage), the relative situations of people with kids and those without, the importance (or lack thereof) of measuring people according to their willing to “pay their dues” according to gender norms. Does ethical reform start at the top (the liberal position), or at the bottom (the conservative position)?

I guess my own sin is more that of drawing attention to myself (through self-publishing) without credentials or reportable accountability, without “paying my dues” in a competitive, meritocratic game that places too much emphasis on the short term. Of course, the point of that game used to be to promote family. A bit of irony. Okay, my lifestyle, which neglects having wife and children, could be said to “cheat the system.” Family cuts both ways in the ethics game: within any one social class, it focuses individuals on meeting the needs of others and away from excessive attention to one’s own values, possessions, expression or other experience, but family and especially nepotism also tend to continue the disparities between groups of people—and this supports the author’s contention that many of these problems are collective and not personal. (Look at how wealthy parents “compete” by how they place their kids in private schools and indulge in expensive tutoring programs –“The Perfect Score”--that encourage richer kids to cheat.) The loss of “meaning” for the traditional gender-marriage-based family because of “competition” from the gay community then might have a bearing on excessive individualism. In my case, there is resentment from others around me because I maintain a certain secrecy and dispassionate detachment in my own affairs, and do things that others say I could not do if I were accountable to biological family. This is, it seems, another way to look at the cheating problem.

The long view that Dr. Callahan takes is instructive, however. At the personal level, he have a peculiar, zero-tolerance meritocracy (in the “Consciousness II” sense of Theodore Reich’s The Greening of America), that is willing to kick ordinary people (often in the ghetto) out of the system so they don’t matter. (Remember student deferments and the draft in the 60s?) Once people have “made it” in a quantitatively competitive world measured by numbers (earnings, television ratings, box office receipts, market share, or, yes, won-lost record) we cut them slack. Callahan’s argument is partly that rampant “slack” at the top is a much bigger cause of economic instability and social unrest (especially failure of traditional marriage) than most conservative commentators are willing to admit. Stringent codes of fairness and ethics (and maybe that includes proving you can take care of somebody besides yourself and that you have periods in your life to “pay your dues”) sound like a way to restore both economic stability and the social stability of the family (and elsewhere on this site I argue that gay marriage can fit into that well). But it is easier (especially with informal means) to instill these codes on “average” people than at the top. I’ve heard the idea of universal national service as a way of breaking the ethics lock all the way to the top. In any case, there will have to be real punishments for those caught cheating at the top, and a stint of “Cool Hand Luke” for some of these people is probably in order. Callahan’s argument is an interesting mixture of both conservative and liberal ideas. Now a system that encourages more discipline and “sacrifice” by ordinary people could well backfire, leading to an arrangement suggestive of fascism. Encouraging people to build meaningful ties to others (and probably not just in nuclear family) sounds like an important way to balance the personal pressures caused by such a competitive system well motivated by freedom.

A particularly atrocious example of cheating comes when retail managers, apparently feeling pressured, electronically alter time records of hourly employees to save money for the bottom lines of the individual stores at which they work. Steven Greenhouse of The New York Times reports about this practice on April 4, 2004, “Altering of Worker Time Cards Spurs Growing Number of Suits” at these companies: Kinko’s, Toys “R” Us, Family Dollar, Pep Boys, Wal-Mart, Rentway, and Taco Bell. These companies all say that their policies are to dismiss managers who alter employee records but admit that it is extremely difficult to get perfect legal compliance in large retail companies. Some of the illegal practices are called “shaving time” and “one-minute clock-out”.

What about The Kids? Elliott Currie provides a supplement to the cheating culture over-individualism thesis in The Road to Whatever: Middle-Class Culture and the Crisis of Adolescence (New York: Metropolitan, 2005 ISBN 10-0-8050-6763-9). Currie’s prevents an interleaved account of troubled teenagers, largely white and from middle class or better homes. His thesis is that teen troubles come not just from the breakdown of the family or lack of discipline in the usual sense, but from a hyper-individualized, Darwinian (or Spencerian) value system that encourages parents to throw their kids away when they don’t “make it.” He writes, “… not everybody can beat everybody else: only a few can win even most of the time. Thus, this value system sets up most of its adherents for failure.” (p/ 62). So, if you aren’t the super student or super athlete to make your parents proud, you slide away. Indeed, some parents kick their kids out. Kids caught in this fix may do anything to stand out (including the most outrageous risk taking or drug-related behaviors. Currie faults a fundamental change in our value system—a diminishing of both the importance of family and of an orderly system of social supports and stable jobs. Parents, he says, believe in the new individualism and extreme capitalism (with consumerism more important than production), and do not place the importance even on their own progeny that earlier generations did.

“The rejection of the idea of mutual responsibility, a righteous distaste for offering help, the acceptance or encouragement of a view of life in which a competitive scramble for individual preeminence and comfort is central, the insistence that even the most vulnerable must learn to handle life’s difficulties by themselves and that if they cannot it is no one’s fault but their own—those were not the idiosyncratic views of a few parents but pervasive themes in American society and culture during the past years in which these teenagers were growing up.” (p. 122)

Currie goes on to discuss this tough-it-out approach in the therapy business and especially the school systems, with their zero-tolerance policies of the 90s. Curiously, though, Currie ignores No Child Left Behind, and things are changing.

Currie’s solutions have a lot to do with keeping the social safety net and especially improving parental benefits and universal health care – and he conveniently ignores the balance with flexibility in creating new kinds of jobs quickly and encouraging small business, which can be burdened by “social responsibility.” You get back to thinking through what our virtues should be at the individual level. Caring for others is also an important responsibility for the individual (even if childless), not just “society.” So you have to balance individual merit and accomplishment with community and family virtues, and with the need for equal opportunities. There is some tension among these.

Katherine A. Kersten and Mitchell B. Pearlstein: Close to Home

Book Review of Close to Home: Celebrations and Critiques of America’s Experiment in Freedom, by Katherine A. Kersten and Mitchell B. Pearlstein; Introduction by Michael Novak; Minneapolis, MSP Books, 2000. ISBN 1-892834-02-4

This anthology presents 50 op-ed columns from each of the two authors. These pieces have appeared in various Twin Cities newspapers, such as the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Minneapolis-St. Paul Business, and the Twin Cities Business Monthly. The brief essays are organized topically, such as by “culture and religion,” “families,” “education,” and “economic and social policy.” The book is offered by the American Experiment with larger gifts.

The point of view of these essays varies from traditional conservatism to libertarianism, with a touch of psychological aesthetic realism.

I’ll come to a main point. In the essay “Textbooks Push the Needs of ‘Self’ Over Marriage” (p. 51), Katherine Kersten presents the “paradox” that one needs to build a healthy self-image before approaching relationships and marriage, and that some people advocate spending time alone with the “self-date.” Then she writes:

“The problem with this approach to life is obvious. Everyone will be caught up in his or her own ‘lifelong romance’ with self to give much support to anyone else.”

Yes, the hammer-blow hit the nail on the head. You don’t often hear even conservative writers say this so bluntly (except perhaps George Gilder). Indeed, modern behavior codes centered on personal responsibility emphasize rational self-interest (that drug use and unprotected sex are potentially self-destructive, which they certainly are) and mute the idea of communal social standards which are not supposed to be questioned. There follows an essay “Aspiring to Perennial Adolescence,” which obliquely criticizes the “Oscar Wilde-Dorian Gray” worship of youth as an immutable value. There is another essay about a North Dakota couple that accepts marriage from the viewpoint that “this is the one that is given to me to love.”

Elsewhere on this site and in my own two books I have developed this idea myself (as in relation to psychological polarities and the balanced-unbalanced personality axis). But it is possible to encapsulate “supporting others” inside of “self-interest” (almost as if to be inherited in object-oriented fashion) if one builds into our social fabric the idea that taking care of others will be expected. This obviously leads to the gay marriage debate and gay parenting (but I didn’t see homosexuality mentioned in the book). One is left with the paradox of (heterosexual) marriage itself as an institution: it demands the passion of youth and idealism, yet requires that these passions be submitted to a kind of unquestioned realism, a willingness to give up some control of one’s own internal aesthetic choices (to “grow up”). You could say that marriage is the great “psychological equalizer”—until you have to argue about inherited wealth.

Many of the essays emphasize personal responsibility in a more conventional way, with a healthy disagreement with the left-wing attempts to settle issues with solidarity and political barter and to take both power and responsibility away from the individual and to leave it with the “professionals.” Kersten has a brief essay on Internet censorship (“Protect students from Internet porn”) and properly explains the danger that the most sadistic pornography can be “published” anonymously and made available to children with no supervision, but she focuses her main criticisms on the issue of allowing schools and libraries to filter Internet porn rather than on trying to stop people from publishing it. Pearlstein presents an interesting libertarian argument (“A Road to Weaker Families, Paved with Good Intentions”) that European style preferential treatment for families with children (over the childless and singles) may actually weaken families rather than strengthen them.

In August 2001 The American Experiment Quarterly published a special issue, Marriage and Children: A Symposium on Making Marriage More Child Centered. In “Are We Willing to Pay the Price?” William A. Galston questions our “more individualistic, choice-cenetered, gratification-oriented U.S. society of the past forty years” and notes “This cultural change has had a significant impact on institutions—such as marriage and child rearing—that require a high degree of stability, solidarity, and sacrifice.” Allan Carlson, in “Building Family-Centered Communities,” recounts the earlier “family wage regime” of the post-war period that “intentionally embraced gender discrimination in employment” until “the historically bizarre addition of the word sex to Ttitle VII of the Civil Rughts Act of 1964.” Again, there is the suggestion that “diversity” among lifestyles, while it may increase opportunities for otherwise disadvantaged individuals, can provide a serious anti-selection against the family as an institution that children, the elderly, and even most adults may need to depend upon.

Jennifer Roback Morse: Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Fair Family Doesn't Work

Jennifer Roback Morse. Love & Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn't Work (Spence Publishing, 2001). ISBN 1890626952

A typical quote is “Basing family life on the political and economic philosophy of individual autonomy rather than the personal philosophy of self-giving love, …, is a prescription for individual unhappiness and social turmoil.”

Well, finally, after all these years, conservative writers have discovered that they can question regarding family and human relationships as akin to economic transactions. Souls could not a make a stock market or profit wars. Anyone remember the transactional analysis of the 70s – “I’m OK, You’re OK” – and the swing to open relationships?

Morse provides a cogent and welcome discussion of the proper attitudes we ought to take towards our own families. The main point of her book is that libertarianism, as a political theory, really is not a recipe for superficial self-autonomy to the point that family relationships (especially marriage itself) are to be regarded coldly as “contracts” or “partnerships.” Human relationships do stem from long-run self-interest but in a free society involves paradox and self-restraint, as demonstrated by her discussion of “The Prisoners’ Dilemma” and later even her discussion of “suspicion” as a “cost: of love. She provides a lucid account of how libertarianism (and classical liberalism) arose from earlier totalitarian or authoritarian ideologies. But earlier moral thinking had always been tempered by the unstated postulate that “family values” would be beyond question.

That parents should make their children first in their lives seems hardly controversial, nor that married couples should remain faithful and that “serial monogamy” is harmful to children. But more important is the idea that all people are helpless at some times in their lives, at least as children and often enough when elderly. A free society must depend upon deeper love, in which dependent people will be valued in family contexts and not simply be judged as would be totally autonomous adults. No quarrel there.

Again, the millionaire’s question centers around that little conjunction “if,” the conditional. What about the self-driven, self-absorbed person who simply never enters into total commitment (however post-adolescent and morally compelling as evidence of “adulthood”) but continues to use the handkerchief of potential love as a vehicle for self-expression? This seems to be the case, in my opinion, with a lot of the gay community, and she never gets around to saying that (or to discussing homosexuality), although she does discuss the self-absorbed person (“me”) as an outlier in the spectrum of psychological health. Indeed, however, she points out social security and welfare programs grant a false sense of freedom, allowing adult children to believe that they have no further responsibility for their parents when making what they believe to be totally valid choices in a “self ownership” context. Although she does not try to provide public policy solutions, the implication is that all adults should recognize that the right to choose or refuse to ”love” is not absolute, and that everyone owes some psychological risk-taking to be regarded as a credible adult. (Her “distinction with a difference” between “risk” and “uncertainty” is interesting, particularly in the context of deciding to postpone having children or to have fewer children.) The question then is what kinds of restraint ought to be practiced by currently unattached people in all kinds of areas (entertainment, Internet speech, self-promotion) for the general welfare of children even when one does not have children of one’s own. We could take this discussion into the areas of gay marriage and parenting, too (she doesn’t) and deal with the biological arguments.

Elinor Burkett: The Baby Boon

Elinor Burkett. The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless. New York: The Free Press, 2000. ISBN 0-684-86303-0; Amazon link.

The author, Elinor Burkett, could have titled the book, “The Baby Boondoggle”!

The Free Press enjoys a reputation as the major publishing imprint (it belongs to Simon & Schuster) that promotes discussion of individual liberty and generally rather libertarian precepts. So, congratulations, the big New York houses are finally getting it right: we have to look at the undercoating of our political life to see how issues play out in the personal lives of real people. And here we have it: is government, and are well-meaning employers, forcing childless adults to make personal sacrifices to support parents, “families with children”? If so, should childless adults make that sacrifice? Is having children a behavioral choice or an obligation? Incredible questions??

There is indeed a smoldering “competitive” tension between parents and “independent” childless adults. It hasn’t been talked about a lot. At the time that I wrote Do Ask, Do Tell it had, to my observation, been developed at length only once, in a 1997 ABC “Good Morning America” segment that presented the Child Free Network. Recently, on March 24, 2000, ABC “20-20” presented to topic again, reported by John Stossel. Dr. Burkett (a history professor and journalist) was presented during the segment. A lot of “family” people seem to think—no, believe—that if you don’t have a family to support you’re not a grownup; you’re part of the undead. In practical terms, this amounts to saying (with some exceptions) that if you don’t practice heterosexual intimacy you’ll be someone else’s servant. This isn’t something real people have to think about. The automaticity of (marital performance) drives it. Or, turning this around, adults who don’t have heterosexual (performance) aren’t real people. Of course, “family oriented” society is barely conscious of all of this; it doesn’t want to hear such whining—indeed, don’t ask, don’t tell. Many people who do receive “family” privileges do not realize that someone else may have to subsidize them, or they may mistakenly believe that everyone eventually will use them for children later on (not noticing that some people do not want to have children); this way of seeing things does make more sense with the eldercare issue, though.

People familiar with this site and with me know that this issue has always been a bone for me. It certainly has an effect on gays and lesbians, and on many other singles, in ways that are more complicated, both practically and morally, than even Burkett presents in her book.

Dr. Burkett’s book is somewhat repetitive, somewhat hysterical, at times, as she drives her point home. Her book is in three parts: an exposition of the interaction between the workplace and public family policy, a development of the notion that political rhetoric (often from “liberals” and “feminists”) and opportunism is driving the “family friendly” phenomenon (she points out that the childless are often too “individualistic” to organize well), and a recapitulation of her own recommendations, which she calls a “balancing act.” Her topic sentence:

“It’s affirmative action—the preferential treatment of one group designed to correct real or perceived discrimination or inequity—based on reproductive choice” (p. 21).

“Equal pay for equal work” is supposed to be the mantra of workplace non-discrimination, but “family friendliness” demands that people with “family responsibilities” intentionally be paid more (indeed, the “family wage”). The childless face discrimination both in government tax and housing policy (for example, you can’t live in an “adults only” development until 55!) and in being cut out of workplace perks.

So much of “family friendly” public policy is couched in potentially deceptive language, to protect parents and expectant mothers and fathers from “discrimination.” But there is a mathematical, tautological fact. We cannot “help” one group without demanding sacrifices or subsidies from others. Sometimes the price may not be noticeable, if there is enough “wealth” to go around. But, money allocated to paid parents’ benefits (paid day care, paid parental leave, etc.) is money no longer available for pay raises for everyone else.

Now, there is a difference between government-mandated family favoritism and private family preference based upon legitimate business interests, a point which Burkett does skirt. If I need a topnotch web administrator, a person with four children may demand paid family leave, paid parental benefits, paid hardware for working from home—so that a $70,000 salary costs $100,000 a year. A single person with no dependents, no marriage plans and the same qualifications and, frankly, lower living costs and more disposable income, may feel he can fill the same position for $65,000 and only $10,000 in benefits, so that he works at a “discount” for $75,000 and lives very well. The employer has to make a “business decision” on whom to hire. But whatever the employer does, it is the marketplace that is driving his decision, not legislation, public policy, or even “morality.” At least, this example constitutes the other side of this issue. The fact is, people with dependents “need” more income and benefits and will tend to expect them from the marketplace. Of course, the role of tax policy and the use of pre-tax benefits complicates the issue. Progressive companies may offer the childless other pre-tax benefits in a cafeteria plan, but then “families” are not longer so favored. Bad employers might intentionally favor “families” but not tell employees upfront that this is their policy (and even try to discourage discussion of the issue, claiming that mere discussion is distracting and possibly hostile). The libertarian will maintain that the market fixes this. Unattached people don’t have to work for deceptive “family friendly” companies if they have the skills to appeal to employers who really can’t afford to pay for anything but talent and performance.

Actually, single people without dependents may, in some situations, take home more money while costing their employers less, because “family” health insurance costs several times as much, including contributory portions. This anomaly goes away when a union wins a contract for full company payment of family health benefits! Or, the childless may get the short end of the stick. They may be forced to take the worst shifts, work holidays and weekends, and in salaried-exempt environments, work overtime for parent colleagues without extra pay, comp time, or even reimbursement for expenses. This tends to happen more in sales organizations or in law firms. Parents are often unaware that others may be making sacrifices for them, or they may assume that younger workers will get their “investment” back when they have kids of their own (I’ve been asked more than once when I’ll join the crowd by becoming a dad myself, by people who don’t even conceive of what it must be like to be a gay male.) In information technology, where parents can work from home on computers (which may be provided at their own expense) there tends to be much less of a problem. (As a single gay male, I’ve worked a significant amount of overtime for a parent-colleague without pay just once in the past eight years.) But even in I.T., in the new twenty-four hour world of open systems architecture, e-commerce and dedicated customer service, this may well grow quickly into an issue, as some parents with young children feel beleaguered by the demands of staying on call or taking graveyard shifts.

It’s easy, if we look around at all, to become convinced that “we” must do something to help “families with children.” No doubt, raising kids—dealing with all the medical risks, the behaviors, the evil influences out there in a world of an open Internet, violent video games and moviesm drugs, guns, the family intimacies—and needing two incomes (perhaps two jobs for one breadwinner) is very tough. Some kids turn out well and some don’t. And, as I wrote in my own book, in the mood of the early 1990’s the corporate economics—plant closings, mergers, downsizings, the “entrepreneurial” workplace—could be very hard on families compared to singles, who may be able to work “cheaper” and lowball their competing coworkers out of layoffs. The economy is supposedly much better now, and we ought to be able to help parents, perhaps? As a Bill Moyer’s PBS documentary that followed several families through the 1990’s shows, it’s not that easy, especially for blue-collar types who had kids before they had anchored their careers.

But, as Burkitt asks, which families need special care from public policy? Maybe poor families should get help, but should high-salaried parents in the workplace force their childless colleagues to subsidize them? When people choose to have children, do they have the “moral right” to demand that others help subsidize them?

This all depends on how you look at it, doesn’t it! After all, family values are community values. We’re not just talking about “fairness,” we’re talking about social cohesion and “ordered liberty.” Hilary Clinton, after all, wrote It Takes a Village. Or does it take two committed parents to follow up on their choices?

There is a psychological spin beneath this that is really hard to get at. In Chapter 3, of Do Ask, Do Tell, I wrote, “There is friction between those who see themselves as capable of controlling their lives, and those who believe that self-concept comes from the direct reassurance of being needed by others.” I had expressed a similar pontification in an essay in GLIL’s 1994 issue of Quill. This, I still believe, is getting at it. The past fifty years have seen a technological revolution, spurned perhaps by war and national defense, that has apparently justified the notion that you should become your own person and express yourself, before making commitments to others. It’s more important to have yourself than to have a marriage. Some may dispute this, and say that the tide is changing, as evidenced by all the new “family friendliness.” Even so, today there is a tendency among many of us to care about others only when it suits our purposes. We lose sight of the ability to love people “as people” but rather as object that can turn us on, please us, or impress us with their merit. I certainly see this in myself.

Family used to be the way “unconditional love” was supposed to get done. The mechanism of heterosexual courtship, consummation, the taming of men by women into sexual commitment, all made “family” look like a prime number 13, something everyone participated in, beyond the calculation of economic self-interest. No more, perhaps, when the “Playboy” mentality and then the debate over “gay rights” can make heterosexual men question everything. Now, “family” is a forum of personal choice. So, we are led Burkett’s astonishing discussion of Ben Wattenberg and Jonathan Rauch, passing through dire warnings about the bipartisan political appeal (even reaching to saving Social Security) of “a pro-family program that redistributes money from the childless to the child-rearing” (“the redistribution of wealth from the childless to the childed”) for potentially eugenic purposes, ending with:

“And what of those childless, who will be forced to pay to motivate the ‘right’ people to reproduce? Neither Rauch nor Wattenberg seemed any more worried about them than were the politicians and feminist activists advancing that same redistribution. They are ‘free riders,’ Wattenberg says. “People who have no children … are in a sense, cheating the system.’” P. 146.

So, then, isn’t the “problem,” not just childlessness but having no dependents? Isn’t the real battle the one between those who have to care for others and support others and those with no one to support but themselves? I have to admit, I am one of the latter. It used to be that people like me stayed home to take care of aging parents, and never moved away. No more. Now we expect to become psychological astronauts (or maybe physical ones, as we’re just independent enough psychologically for the Mission to Mars, or perhaps to Europa and Titan .) Bill Gates made his contribution to society (and made my book possible) before marrying and having children. Free-dom!

Along these lines, the debate of same-sex marriage and gay parenting drops in (a topic Burkett barely mentions). We could, as Jonathan Rauch suggests in (Free Press, again) Beyond Queer, “expect” marriage and probably adoptive parenting or other caretaking from gays, and society might be much better off. There are plenty of kids needing adoption and plenty of very competent potential parents among gays, even the men, to the surprise of “conservatives.”

But, recognizing this, we can go down a scary path, as Burkett hints (but limiting her argument to childlessness). We could, for example, imagine a world in which no adult over thirty gets a good job (or a mortgage) until he or she has demonstrated the ability to provide for somebody besides the self. (Burkett, on p. 203, reacting to a 1977 Carnegie Council proposal of “full employment for parents” warns that such a public policy slippery slope—maybe couched deceptively as “non discrimination against parents”—can lead to legal second-class status for non-parents [or those without dependents, following my “Singapore” model] way beyond what we know today: employers could be required to offer jobs to parents first (and spare them from layoffs), be required to provide paid parental benefits at the expense of non-parents, and be required to give parents first choice of shift assignments, and even exclusion from all “nightcall” responsibilities.) A ukase to make oneself a family provider might conceivably be accomplished not so much by law as by allowing the culture to experiment further through the marketplace (and, in fact, it would require repealing quite a few laws) Maybe it works this way on some other Urantian planet or Clive Barker dominion. In a way, this does sound “fair” (and, after all, the moral underpinning of individualism must be fairness and deservedness) even if it involves psychological strip-mining. Perhaps a more “modest proposal” would be this: companies are free to, and perhaps “expected to” offer modest preferences to those with live-in dependents, as long as they announce their policies openly at the time of hire. Allowing gay marriage (and facilitating gay parenting) would make this much more acceptable. It would also possible to regard elderly parents or relatives as dependents in this sense; Burkett mentions the argument that a f

I don’t know whether such a draconian “moral” development would alter the “Map of the Human Heart.” Indeed, the Oscar Wilde legacy has expressed itself in our culture as a love of aesthetics, of the perfect and beautiful and exciting, at the expense of loving plain people. Outside of a religious paradigm, who can say if this is right or wrong? Ethics and epistemology, after all, demand postulates. We certainly are coming to appreciate diversity of talent and psychological direction and to resist prejudice against people who are emotionally different, and yet we seem secretly troubled that such people might get a “free ride” or that their “sense and sensibility” change the rules for the rest of us. There is a danger that our psychological individualism can lead less able people (and I mean adults) out in the cold, without an unquestionable family context to give their lives meaning. Perhaps we do need some cultural “rules” expecting everyone to support others or otherwise to take periodical sabbaticals where they throw their entire lives into helping the underprivileged. But I do know that when we respect the psychological diversity of people, and are open to understanding what makes people very different from us tick, and work with them to allow them to find their best productive opportunities regardless of otherwise authoritarian moral judgments, we wind up with a more human world for everyone, with more to go around

David Boaz: Libertarianism: A Primer, and The Libertarian Reader

David Boaz. Libertarianism: A Primer. New York: The Free Press, 1996. ISBN: 0-684-83198-8 And The Libertarian Reader. ISBN 0-684-83200-3

Review: David Boaz is an Executive Vice-President of the Cato Institute in Washington, DC. Cato is a libertarian think-tank which tends to advocate pragmatic, free-market approaches to public policy problems without always insisting of libertarian ideological purity. It's views tend to be very similar to my own (as in my own DADT book). Hence Boaz's writings and anthology-editing (including his earlier 1993 collaboration with Crane, Market Liberalism) were very valuable to me in writing my own book.

In a sense, these two books compose one opus, Boaz's definitive work to date. Between them, over 300,000 words of text (mine as about 180,000). The Reader, of course, is a collection of essays dating back to ancient times (there is a passage from the Bible, in I Samuel, and a passage by Taoist philosopher and poet Lao-tzu of the 6th Century, B.C.! The Reader is set up a bit like a philosophy text book, with sections and authorial commentary to outline each major concept.

Boaz emphasizes several grand themes. The most important may be self-ownership and natural rights of man, well developed in the earlier portions of the Primer. Harry Browne has sometimes mentioned this in various speeches (and it is developed fully in Browne's own writings in practical applications). Another would be spontaneous order, and civil society. Freedom begets wealth and tends, of its own accord, to become a natural antidote to poverty, even before voluntary charity, let alone government programs.

Boaz's organization of his work gives him the opportunity to explore the same concepts from multiple angles and logical hierarchies, a situation in argument I have encountered a lot in my own writing.

Boaz does not seem to be as concerned with the arcane details of various controversial policy issues ("gay rights," tort reform, term limits) as with presenting the broad historical sweep of what he sees as a grand philosophical and political tradition which is not so recent as most activists think. His treatment of "family values" is terse but pointed (compared to me, Sullivan, and, say, George Gilder). My treatment, by way of comparison, was to emphasis the psychological roots of the same philosophy.

Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" and "Bait and Switch"

Barbara Ehrenreich. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Heny Holt, 2001. ISBN: 0-8050-6389-7; Amazon link.

Author, scientist and jorunalist Barbara Ehrenreich, complete with the pride of her career and Ph. D. in Biology, went underground and lived a minimum wage life in several states to find out if people really can fairly be expected to “make it” on their own. The specific context for her journalism project was, of course, welfare reform: the laws sweeping most states forcing people (most notably single mothers) off of welfare after five years to go back to work. But there is a broader context regarding social justice in a competitive meritocracy that is quite disturbing indeed.

She tried various jobs—waitressing, cleaning, minimum wage retailing—in some states such as Florida, Maine, and Minnesota, and at the same time attempted to live on the minimum wage by living in substandard housing such as trailer parks and shared rooms. Consistently, she found that she was treated with suspicion by all employers, with their “survey” personality tests, drug screening, suspicion of theft, draconian rules about “gossip” and even bathroom breaks. And not surprisingly, she could not find acceptable housing on her own, a situation that could not work for families or single mothers.

There is a bigger context to all of this than just welfare reform. Here is a hint:

“But guilt doesn’t go anywhere near far enough: the appropriate emotion is shame—shame at our own dependency, in this case, on the underpaid labor of others.” (P. 201).

I used to hear this all the time from the far left in my young adulthood, that even the middle class, not just the rich, consisted of parasites who lived off the toil of others. What seems scary, then, during this time of war, recession, corporate scandals, the loss of wealth, and endless layoffs is falling out of the middle class into the poverty class and living out the rest of one’s life in some kind of servitude without much self respect. As Ehrenreich points out, these jobs all require extreme regimentation, that many “spoiled” middle class and upper class people could not survive. (She points out the aerobic demands of cleaning jobs and the mental concentration and memorization of retail—she felt like she had “Alzheimer’s” while she has a Ph. D!) Yet, it does seem that the poverty trap does extend much more to those with specific problems beyond just job loss. The problems include lack of English skills, alcoholism or drug dependency, mental illness, and sometimes physical unattractiveness and handicap. The American paradigm is tell “fending for yourself” and finding one’s special talents to bootstrap oneself out of the cellar. But the merciless fact of logic is that, in a free society of “personal responsibility” where there are winners, there will also be losers.

There is a lot of discussion these days as “good” jobs, especially in information technology, are outsourced to lower wage areas of the world. At the outset, American workers are now competing with workers in part of the world where there is less individual freedom and lower standards for employers in the workplace. Yes, as a matter of principle, there should be minimum working conditions standards in countries when we buy goods and services from companies that operate in those countries. Imagine a time machine taking you to America before 1861 if you could “outsource” work to slaves in the South!

But it’s time to stop whining about outsourcing! People used to moderate affluence and professional working conditions may find themselves having to start over in the “low wage” world, and accepting its regimentation (wearing uniforms, graveyard shifts, time-clocks) or wind up homeless, without health care and possibly dying prematurely and being unable to provide for a previously established family. This is a kind of “free market” cultural revolution. Perhaps, besides labor unions, the answer to improving working conditions at the low-wage end is to induce more formerly middle class people to work in this world (and a few executives, too!), Politicians are unwilling to talk about it with complete candor, especially conservatives. It is very brutal! The fact is that anyone caught in this situation is facing competition for his standard of living from other parts of the world that is becoming increasingly resourceful and indignant. In the long run, exportation of jobs this way does raise living standards worldwide by reducing costs for everyone. If I buy inexpensive garments or electronics from overseas, if I take advantage of low-cost technology to promote my writing, I have to face the other side of this. In the long run, everyone has to get used to the idea of “paying your dues” to benefit from global efficiency, and some people will be dropped in the ditch along the way if they can’t compete as individuals as others take away their opportunities (even as the total pot grows slowly). It’s really always been that way. Remember how it was in the days of Vietnam, what happened if you couldn’t compete in academics.

Of course, politically we have to be conscious of the ethics and human rights records of societies that we trade with (and export jobs to). And people have a right to bargain collectively for their jobs, pay, and working conditions. But union activism (possibly leading to calls for protectionism) needs to be balanced by employee education, professionalism, ability to keep up with technology, and downward competency expectations. And even all of this is a two-way street.

The January 2004 The American Prospect has a detailed account of the low-wage problem, “Can We Give America a Raise?: The problem of low-wage work” with contributions by Christopher Jencks, William Serrin, Harold Meyerson (on Wal-Mart), Merrill Goozner, Ayelish McGarvey, Matthew Yglesias, Joan FitzGerald, and Robert Kuttner.

On April 1, 2004 Jim Lehrer NewsHour on PBS, author David Shipler discussed his book The Working Poor: Invisible in America (February, 2004, Knopf, ISBN 0375408908). One of his points is that underpaid low-wage work artificially elevates living standards for middle class and upper class Americans, and that corporations who pay low wages and benefits are getting “corporate welfare” from government who supplement care for the working poor. Furthermore, the lack of medical care, poor diet, and other problems hamper the ability of low wage workers to move up in a meritocratic society. Again, there is a temptation to bring on the “pay your dues” type of thinking.

Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream (2005, Henry Holt: Metropolitan, New York, ISBN 0805076969) is Ehrenreich’s sequel, this time about downward mobility in the middle class, in the face of corporate downsizings and buyouts, and especially offshoring, all motivated by short-term thinking and investor capitalism.

Here, Ehrenreich posed as a job seeker, looking for a communications job with a major corporation, perhaps a pharmaceutical company or a hospital chain. She went through the outplacement and headhunter companies, the boot camps, the networking, some of it even “faith based.” She took the personality tests. Not to her surprise but perhaps her chagrin, she found all of this conducted in very bad faith. Plenty of career consultants were all too happy to collect thousands of (fake) dollars from her for all kinds of advice ranging from resumes to interview styles to dress and appearance. The corporate world seem to be like a popover appetizer for dinner—a lot of air and not too much substance. The recruiting practices seemed not to even make real business sense.

Particularly disturbing is the intellectual dishonesty of the endeavors. Barbara, after characterizing herself as a writer, early on distinguishes between journalism, which is supposed to be objective and faithful to the truth, and public relations, in which one is paid to announce the company line. Toward the end of the book she characterizes what companies seem to be looking for, as “passion,” a willingness and eagerness to put the company’s aims above all else.

I have encountered some of this since my own “retirement” at the end of 2001. I went through the outplacement companies and interviews that ended in sudden disappointment. Trying to tack on to I.T., I encountered a system where people move to distant cities for W-2 contracts with no benefits, and where very specific technical matches are required for the job. But, because of my twelve years in insurance, I have also been approached at least twice to become financial planning advisor and life insurance agent. One company would have paid for all my training but would have prohibited my having any outside income (even when all of my income would come from commissions), an arrangement which would prevent my pursuing attempts to sell my own writing. They said this was required by securities law but I suspect they wanted my soul.

Ehrenreich talks about some of these Faustian deals, as she found a couple of these “jobs” herself toward the end of her search. She recommends much more political and social solidarity among the middle class, whose members have gotten used to competing with each other individually as a kind of social Darwinism exercise. She also mentions Chaiman Mao’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, where professionals and intellectuals were forced to toil in the countryside as a kind of political purification brought on by their having been “parasites” on the manual labor of others.

This last point seems relevant to me. When I worked as an individual contributor in information technology, with no direct reports or public visibility or sales culture, I still made six or seven times what minimum wage workers get, with good benefits. Of course, too, we have outsourced out dirty work to near slave-like conditions overseas. The “decadent middle class” offers a personal moral hazard; executives can tap our moral vulnerability. I sensed this in the late 1980s when (my career seemingly threatened by leveraged buyouts and hostile takeovers) I would work so much unpaid overtime to keep my own systems perfect, because weaker programmers were already falling out. I got a break in the 1990s partly because of the Internet and partly because Y2K concerns kept my skills in demand until after the millennium turn.

I would find myself, while making myself indispensable in a world of numbers and dumps, working alone, drifting away from socialization and meeting the needs of others, in order to enjoy a relatively sheltered, comfortable lifestyle. Even I could make enemies this way. Things changed after 9/11 for me. What is needed to get the social justice that Ehrenreich seeks through political solidarity is a way to hold every individual person accountable for any advantages he or she had, by expecting the sharing of burdens in an individual way. This is the “pay your dues” philosophy. It would seem that Ehrenreich missed the opportunity to argue along this subtle path.

Bill's Book Reviews

This blog is a collection of several of my book reviews, about both fiction and non-fiction. The emphasis is on political and social non-fiction and on novels with social or political importance. You can see all of the reviews at
http://www.doaskdotell.com/books .

Regarding my own authored books:

The best way to search for these books on bn,com and amazon,com is to select BOOKS, AUTHOR (on bn) and Bill Boushka (do not use quotes in the search field on either site), or TITLE (on bn) and Do Ask Do Tell (again, do not use quotes on either site – curiously, using quotes sometimes causes spurious items to appear). Generally these sites offer searches in a number of sort orders, such as sales rank or publication date. On amazon you may have to click “see all 3 items” to bring up the iUniverse item.) (Or, To get to the correct printing on Amazon.com of the first DADT book you may have to click on “Editions” and “Paperback” to get to the current version in print.)

Note: the full URL for the DADT book at iUniverse.com is at Link to iUniverse web page for the first DADT book
The full URL for the sequel "When Liberty is stressed" is Link to iUniverse web page for DADT sequel book, as of 12/16/2002