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What We Talk About When We Talk About (White) Class

To-day, I’m reading: Yet Another Magazine Think-Piece on What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class.. This one is from Joan C. Williams. It’s better than some,[1] much the same as others. Or at times a bit worse worse: The I do not defend police who kill citizens for selling cigarettes. But maneuver of cultivating sympathy by dodging blame is stronger in this than in the average hand-wringing piece. In any case, The Atlantic publishes this article regularly about once every 9-18 months; of course the rate ticks up in an election year.

Shared Article from Harvard Business Review

What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class

The reasons for Trump’s win are obvious, if you know where to look.

hbr.org


But what I want to look at here is where this article is in the Definitional Chairs game for White Working Class. What’s interesting about it is that it’s relatively overt about what talk about class — or, more precisely, white class — seems to be increasingly employed to do, which is not actually to talk about class in the sense of income, wealth, or economic status — let alone something as wonky as relationship to the means of production. If it’s intended to mark socio-economic status, working class here leans very heavily on the socio and not on the economic. So, for example, we find out that William’s subject is not mainly the white working poor (except when it’s convenient to expatiate on their problems); it’s mainly white people making around $64,000 a years:

The terminology here can be confusing. When progressives talk about the working class, typically they mean the poor. But the poor, in the bottom 30% of American families, are very different from Americans who are literally in the middle: the middle 50% of families whose median income was $64,000 in 2008. That is the true middle class, and they call themselves either middle class or working class.

Overtly, constantly throughout the entire piece, the metric that Williams uses for white class is white educational attainment. And the analysis based on data about white educational class is drawn entirely from data, or from stereotypes, about the distinctive white subcultures marked out by spending time in, or avoiding, the culture of four-year colleges and universities.[2]

This definitional move becomes the most thoroughgoing when Williams’ writing simply makes it implicit. For example, her claim that:

But women don’t stand together: WWC [White Working Class] women voted for Trump over Clinton by a whopping 28-point margin — 62% to 34%. If they’d split 50-50, she would have won. (Williams)

… is sourced to a New Yorker election postmortem article by John Cassidy. The passage from the New Yorker article that Williams is closely paraphrasing doesn’t say anything about working-class; what it says is white women without college degrees, which Williams has simply read and re-written as working class:

White women without college degrees, who make up about seventeen per cent of the voting-age population, voted for Trump over Clinton by a whopping twenty-eight-point margin, sixty-two per cent to thirty-four per cent. If the members of this group had split their votes fifty-fifty, say, they would have delivered a victory to Clinton. But, to a large extent, they voted with their male peers. (Cassidy)

I don’t think Williams is an exceptional case here. I think what she is doing is in fact pretty typical. It’s not the only thing we do when talking about class or, more circumspectly, about class divides among American white folks. But it’s one of the things that people do a lot. The class divides or class conflict in an awful lot of recent think-piece writing putatively about socioeconomic class isn’t between employees and owners but rather something consistently spelled out in terms of statistics about the economic, social and cultural gaps between white people who don’t have four-year college degrees and professional-class white people who do. This is a divide that has obvious economic implications (how long you went to school and what you did there affects what kind of jobs you get) but it’s not primarily an economic division. It is a sociological division. If you want to know why people talking about class or especially speculating about white class divides say what they say, — from just about any political standpoint, left or right — then the first thing to do is to keep in mind that they are talking about something that is as much produced by subculture and institutional cultures within American schools and jobs as it is by any measure of income or wealth. If you want to know why the latest magazine think-piece about Class In America says what it says, the first thing to ask is almost certainly not much of anything to do with the means of production; it’s what the author is thinking and saying, first, about race; and second, about college.

  1. [1]Because among other things it doesn’t spend too much time on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men poverty-porn gawking (although it briefly refers to that: … a wave of despair deaths in the form of the opioid epidemic), and because despite the usual difficulties, it is relatively up-front in the fact that it’s stipulating a definition of working class which is not the same as what Progressives might go into it expecting, etc.
  2. [2]For example:

    Class migrants (white-collar professionals born to blue-collar families) report that “professional people were generally suspect” and that managers are college kids “who don’t know shit about how to do anything but are full of ideas about how I have to do my job,” said Alfred Lubrano in Limbo.

    . . . WWC men aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50. What they want is what my father-in-law had: steady, stable, full-time jobs that deliver a solid middle-class life to the 75% of Americans who don’t have a college degree. Trump promises that. I doubt he’ll deliver, but at least he understands what they need.

    . . . Massive funding is needed for community college programs linked with local businesses to train workers for well-paying new economy jobs.

    . . . National debates about policing are fueling class tensions today in precisely the same way they did in the 1970s, when college kids derided policemen as “pigs.” This is a recipe for class conflict. Being in the police is one of the few good jobs open to Americans without a college education. [See what I said about the excuse-making? –RG]

Pirating textbooks isn’t just against the law, it’s a good idea, too

Here’s a recent story from the Washington Post, informing us that More students are illegally downloading college textbooks for free.

Shared Article from Washington Post

More students are illegally downloading college textbooks for fr…

Students upload them (also illegally) to help others save money.

washingtonpost.com


It’s hard (if not impossible) to know just how prevalent this practice is, but some college students around the country are uploading their expensive college textbooks onto the Internet so other students can download them for free and avoid the hefty fees that are sometimes more than $200 a book.

Vocativ.com has a story titled “Why College Students are Stealing Their Textbooks,” which notes that some students are even downloading them for ethics classes.

The cost to students of college textbooks skyrocketed 82 percent between 2002 and 2012, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. General Accountability Office, the research arm of Congress. As a result, students have been looking for less expensive options, such as renting books — and, now, finding them on the Internet, uploaded by other students.

In August, an organization called the Book Industry Study Group, which represents publishers, retailers, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, librarians and others in the industry, released a survey of some 1,600 students and found, according to a release on the data, that “students continue to become more sophisticated in acquiring their course materials at the lowest cost as illicit and alternative acquisition behaviors, from scanned copies to illegal downloads to the use of pirated websites, continue to increase in frequency.”

–Valerie Strauss, More students are illegally downloading college textbooks for free
Washington Post, 17 September 2014.

Well, good. The textbook industry is an obscene racket, predicated on extraordinary costs and a maze of perverse incentives, controlled by a tightly organized cartel of copyright-monopolists, gargantuan institutional sellers and gargantuan institutional buyers, throwing every ton of their incredible weight onto the shoulders of students, tollgating and massively hampering the dissemination of knowledge.

Pirating textbooks isn’t just a good idea. It’s a mitzvah. Burn the domming industry to the ground. Knowledge can and should be free.

See also.

Wednesday Lazy Linking

  • Marketplace (May 9, 2013): Does fair trade clothing help the consumer and the retailer?: NPR’s Marketplace features a short story on Fair Trade certification for clothing, and efforts to address the working conditions in Bangladesh sweatshops. Along the way, there’s a couple quotes from my co-editor on Markets Not Capitalism, Gary Chartier, about the supply-chain practices that many clothing-industry TNCs use to displace responsibility and insulate themselves from accountability for lethal working conditions in their factories.

  • Cathy Reisenwitz @ Sex And The State (May 15, 2013): Fighting Sexism, Sexily I’ve long contended that libertarians have a habit of downplaying or denying certain problems when they don’t like the proposed solutions. For example, when people talk about sexism, or the wage gap, it’s common for a libertarian to retort that the wage gap isn’t real, or can be explained by individual choices. I understand this desire to avoid the coercive solutions many people suggest for fighting sexism . . . The thing is, Rothbard was super bothered by a state monopoly on force. We libertarians need to get really bothered by sexism. And then we need to come up with cultural, and not state, solutions. . . . (With an example of creative thinking and guerrilla theater, featuring a cheesecake pin-up poster of Bro-sie the Riveter.)

  • Marja Erwin (May 2, 2013): Trans Politics and Colonialism: A Few Questions?. Read the whole thing.

  • Marja Erwin (April 23, 2013): I still think market anarchism has a lot to contribute to the rest of anarchism. This too. I think it’s important to have a system where people can communicate what they need, and what they want, and what they don’t need, and what they can do to help, and I think it’s important to have systems where people can work things among themselves, if for some reason they can’t work things out through the community or union or federation orgs. . . . (Against all monopolizations of social capital.)

  • Mark Stoval @ On the Mark (May 7, 2013) claims that he is going to take A look at Mutualism. In comments, Roderick Long points out that he ought to have looked harder. Or, really, tried looking at any mutualist writing at all, rather than just doing what he seems to have done, which was to scan ahead until he reached a fixed phrase (labor theory of value, occupancy and use) that convinced him that he already knows everything that he needs to know about the rest of the book. Nearly everything that Mark claims about Mutualists is a ridiculous travesty of Kevin Carson’s views; and evidence that he knows nothing about Mutualists other than Kevin Carson. But Roderick’s intervention in the comments section is right-on.

  • Forbes (May 15, 2013): Suit Alleges IRS Improperly Seized 60 Million Personal Medical Records. You know what the worst part of this story is? The part about having an Internal Revenue Service, to surveill daily expenses and seize personal data, all in order to investigate and police tax payments. Seriously, there is no possible way to square that with basic civil liberties, and it ought to be abolished.

  • BBC (May 6, 2013): Lauryn Hill jailed for tax evasion. Partly this is a story about the government’s tax-policing. Partly it’s a story about the financial traps that are imposed by the structure of state capitalism, and the ways in which tax structures systemically confine people — both very wealthy people, like Hill, and very poor people as well — to high-liquidity, cash-producing business and employment. The Grammy-winning singer, 37, also faces three months of home confinement, after pleading guilty last year. Hill failed to pay taxes on about $1.8m (£1.2m) of earnings between 2005-07. In a statement to the judge, Hill said she had intended to pay the taxes but could not after withdrawing from public life and ending her music career to raise her children. . . . I am a child of former slaves who had a system imposed on them, Hill said in court. I had an economic system imposed on me. Free Lauryn Hill and all political prisoners.

  • Dominic Gover, International Business Times (May 7, 2013): Lauryn Hill Blames Slavery as She’s Jailed for $500,000 Unpaid Tax Bill. Oh by the way, did I mention that the judge is also forcing Lauryn Hill to undergo counselling because of her conspiracy theories [sic] as a condition of her plea? Where conspiracy theories means political dissent from the status quo.

  • Jim Epstein @ reason.com (May 7, 2013): Government Assault on the Chinatown Bus Industry Fueled By Bogus Federal Study. In which the government takes care of Greyhound’s competitors for them, using an error-ridden bogus safety study, which uses Greyhound’s own crashes to prove that their curbside competitors are less safe. The study is like a matryoshka doll of clumsy errors and statistical malpractice; every time you spot them one error and set it aside for the sake of argument, you find another error, just as atrocious as the last one, nested inside of it.

  • Home School Legal Defense Association (May 14, 2013): German Family Denied Asylum, HSLDA Appeals. The judge’s decision to deny asylum is appalling. From the press release: The court said that the Romeikes had not made a sufficient case, and that the United States has not opened its doors to every victim of unfair treatment. Well no, no they haven’t. But they say that like it ought to be a problem for the victims of unfair treatment. Actually, it is a problem with the United States, which needs to stop acting as a gatekeeper and get out of the way. It is appalling that any peaceful immigrant should be turned away, for any reason. Solidarity with all people without papers, and all immigrants without status.

  • Free Adam Kokesh (May 20, 2013): Adam Kokesh Accused of Felony Assault on Federal Officer — No Bail Yet: It looks pretty clearly like he is being held on a vacuous detained-by-will-of-the-cop charge — in this case, resisting arrest and assault on a federal officer — for getting himself shoved by a Federal Officer and then grabbing the arm of the dude who was physically attacking him. His hearing is set for Thursday; in the meantime he is in contact with his attorney but has been denied the opportunity to make phone calls (content warning: Alex Jones links, feh).

  • DinoGoss (May 11, 2013): The Validity of Lambeosaurus — Anybody Know A Good Lawyer? I Am Not A Taxonomist, but I’m inclined to think that if your system would throw out Lambeosaurus at this point in favor of Didanodon altidens that’s probably a problem with your naming system not a problem with current use of Lambeosaurus.

  • Lucy Cooke @ Vimeo (February 8, 2013): BUCKET OF SLOTHS. Exactly what it says on the tin.

Sectional Education

You know, I live in Alabama and I spent about a decade of my life in Alabama state schools. I hate that the current state code includes a provision requiring high-school sex-ed classes to include stigmatizing, bigoted and false anti-gay content. And I’m glad to see that there’s a bill pending in the state legislature that would just delete that entire section and all the minimum content requirements along with it.[1] I’ve lived in Alabama for much of my life and I’ve often tried to take a hand in changing local culture and building more positive alternatives in my community. But when I see a liberal freethought blog linking to a story about this, and (1) the very first comment, and (2) over half of the comments that follow it, are from comfortable progressives cracking jokes about incest or marrying cousins or having sex with farm animals,[2] I– well, actually I just don’t get the feeling that y’all are really on our side, somehow. Or that you are quite as un-bigoted as you might have thought that you were.

  1. [1]Of course there is no right way for government to do sex education, or any kind of education, or to run schools at all; so the best thing to do is simply to get rid of all government control over education, period. In the meantime, when state laws specifically require schools to insert content into lessons which is harmful and false, I’ll be happy to see those specific requirements get axed.
  2. [2]See, it’s funny because poor people living in rural areas have often been socially marginalized and ridiculed with broad stereotypes about their supposed deviant sex practices. Ho, ho.

CFP: “No Master But God”? Exploring the Compatibility of Anarchism and Religion

A Call for Papers, via the NAASN listserv.

Call for paper proposals:

‘No Master But God’? Exploring the Compatibility of Anarchism and Religion

ASN 2.0 (‘Making Connections’) Conference
Loughborough University (UK)
3-5 September 2012

Anarchism and religion have long had an uneasy relationship. On the one hand, many anarchists insist that religion is fundamentally incompatible with anarchism, recalling that anarchism calls for ‘no gods, no masters’, pointing to the many cases of close collaboration of religious and political elites in oppressing and deluding the masses, arguing that religious belief is superstitious, and so on. On the other, some religious/spiritual radicals insist that their religious/spiritual tradition cannot but lead to a rejection of the state, care for the downtrodden and the quest for a more just society – despite of, indeed sometimes precisely because of, the acceptance (by some) of a god as ‘master’.

A number of recent publications both in religious and anarchist studies have focused on religious anarchism, but consideration of their compatibility in the first place has been rarer. The aim of this stream of panels is to explore critically and frankly the relationship and tensions between these two notions, with a view to publish its proceedings in a peer-reviewed edited collection. The size of the stream of panels will depend on the number of applicants, but the intention is to foster mutual engagement and collaboration. Proposals are encouraged from sceptical as well as sympathetic perspectives, the aim being to foster critical discussion of these themes.

Questions which may be addressed include (but are not necessarily restricted to):

  1. Is rejection of religion (and/or spirituality) a sine qua non of anarchism?
  2. What do we mean by ‘religion’, ‘spirituality’ and ‘anarchism’ when considering their relation?
  3. What is unacceptable to anarchism about religion/spirituality, and to religion/spirituality about anarchism?
  4. Are some religious/spiritual traditions inherently more compatible with anarchism than others?
  5. Why do religious institutions tend to move away from the often radical intentions of their original prophets and founders? How does this compare to non-religious institutions?
  6. What explains differences in the reception of religious/spiritual anarchism across different contexts?
  7. To what extent can religious/spiritual anarchists’ deification of religious/spiritual notions (such as ‘God’) be compared to non-religious anarchists’ deification of secular notions (such as freedom or equality)?
  8. What role do (and can) religious/spiritual anarchists play in the wider anarchist movement, and in their wider religious/spiritual tradition?
  9. What can religion/spirituality and anarchism learn from one another’s history and ideas?
  10. Is religious/spiritual anarchism really anarchist? Is it really religious/spiritual?

Please send abstracts of up to 300 words (along with name and eventual institutional affiliation) to Dr Alexandre Christoyannopoulos on a.christoyannopoulos@gmail.com by 31 March 2012 at the very latest. Any questions should also be sent to that address.

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