April 30, 2017… Day 101
I’ve been catching up on the American version of Shameless, which takes place in Chicago and features a working poor Irish-American family. They are always trying to maneuver their way into a better life and always sliding backwards. If one of them has a little success, it helps all of them. But that help is not equal to the harm that befalls all of them if one of them gets into trouble. The math just doesn’t ever pencil out, and they end up running to stand still. It reminds me of a headline I saw a few days ago. It said that in order for a family to rise out of poverty, it needs a 20-year stretch when nothing major goes wrong.
And something major is always going wrong when you’re poor, because being poor is expensive, risky, and inefficient. Just take one aspect of poverty. Impulse control. Consider how growing up in poverty often means (for a combination of reasons), having poorer impulse control than people who had more advantages as kids. And then those people, the ones with poorer impulse control, are the ones who DON’T get second chances. No, the ones who grew up with stability, safety, good nutrition, adult attention, good schooling, less trauma — THOSE ones, they get second, third, fourth chances. It’s so unfair it’s ridiculous, even before you factor in systemic racism.
On my dad’s side of the family there was a little more early college-going and business-owning a few generations back. On my mom’s side, the climb into the middle class was more recent and tenuous. The Gallaghers of Shameless remind me of my mom’s mom’s family. They lived in Chicago, worked in the stockyards. Germans and Irish mixed together. There was alcoholism, bad marriages, tuberculosis. My Grandma was born in 1911, and a face-ravaging disease took away her looks when she was six. I think she picked up, from an early age, that she was probably never going to be married and provided for. Her dad was a wreck, in and out of sanitariums. The stock market crashed when she was 18. But she managed to get herself through college and become a social worker. And eventually she married another poorly paid government staffer, and they raised three responsible kids in a tiny little house where they lived for 60 years.
There was always this “middle class morality” in my family. The upper classes make fun of it. The lower classes resent it. People talk about middle class morality like it’s so dull, so rigid, so unimaginative. But middle class morality is extremely imaginative. It’s a bunch of people imagining that after a couple too many wrong turns, the whole family will slide right back down out of the middle class. So everybody better watch themselves.
Anyway, watching Shameless makes me see how lucky I am that a) my ancestors got the various breaks that let them get out of poverty and into the middle class, and b) that these dramas played out in earlier generations instead of my own. I also see how they still affected my own upbringing and personality.
Tomorrow is May Day, which will be the third major day of marching in Seattle in 9 days. May Day has been fairly big in Seattle for the last several years or longer. Usually there’s a union group, an immigrant rights group, and then a socialist group laced with anarchists who want to break things. Anyway, I work in the financial district, in a financial firm, and for us May Day always means extra security and bracing for potential violence.
May Day also always falls right at the point in corporate earnings season when I’m starting to really fall behind on my work. It would be so strange for me to leave the office in the middle of the day to hang out with socialists in the middle of the street. Even if I am already the weirdo at work.
So yeah, I’m kind of a corporatist centrist neoliberal shill and I have middle class morality and am a dreadful bore. COME AT ME BRO.