THE HAND OF FATE

Whether or not my senioritis-stricken students are getting anything out of it I can't be certain, but my seminar on political literature has given me a great opportunity to re-read some of The Classics. This week we're doing The Jungle. Everyone is assigned it at some point and I doubt many people read it. That's a shame.

The reason it's important goes beyond its rather ham-fisted message – Oliver Stone took most of his lessons in subtlety from Upton Sinclair – to accomplish things its author never intended. Sinclair lamented the fact that the message about socialism was largely lost on his audience. Not many people seemed concerned with the workers, whereas most readers were in an uproar about food safety. The author gave all of the characters flaws in order to make them more believable. As a consequence, many readers were more apt to moralize about personal responsibility than to sympathize with the extent to which the characters were brutally and systematically destroyed. Stop me if that sounds familiar.

Post-1980 America is a land in which it is impossible to engage in a discussion about a System with college-aged people without inevitably and almost immediately devolving into mini-soliloquies on Good and Bad choices. Why have so many kids? Why did he start drinking? And they signed a contract without reading the whole thing! Everyone knows not to do that.

This is what I mean when I describe college students, when I'm forced to generalize, as extremely conservative. They aren't necessarily hardcore political conservatives in the context of Washington politics, but they have thoroughly internalized the message that their parents and the media have been hammering them with since birth: everything that happens to you is your fault. There are no innocent victims of anything. This is a coping mechanism / cognitive bias called the Just World Phenomenon, wherein people victim-blame as a means of coping with the random cruelty of the world. Rather than accept that horrible things happen to good people – and, thus, that a horrible fate could befall them at any moment – people choose to retreat into the comforts of believing that everyone Had It Coming.

These are young adults who believe sincerely that since they have made Good Choices, nothing bad can happen to them for reasons beyond their control. The idea of being unemployed is literally incomprehensible to many of them – I'm in college and I even get decent grades, of course someone is going to hire me. This is where, as critics both liberal and conservative have often moaned, the constant self-esteem building of kids born in the 1990s shows its ugly side. Each student tends to believe that he or she is special and smart and the world, being a meritocracy, cannot fail to recognize this. Some of this simply is the normal naivety of youth that only life experience can erase. I honestly believe, strictly as a matter of opinion, that the hyper-individualism that dominates post-Carter politics is influential as well.

Sometimes I try to push back when this rears its head in the classroom, despite the obvious futility. What if your job gets outsourced to Asia? Well, I would never enter a field where that could happen, or I would Get More Education and change fields. Oh, I see. That should do it. It does not occur to them that their employers will be able to cornhole them with abandon, as they see themselves and unique, irreplaceable, and thus able to dictate their own terms. If they don't like it, they can quit and find another job. How hard could that be? They see the bleakness of the economy all around them, yet they see themselves as impervious to it.

This is the real value of reading The Jungle for kids of this generation – the message about unions and socialism may be lost on them, but it's hard to miss the message that shit happens. Bad things are going to happen to you. People are going to screw you and you won't be able to do anything about it. As you age, the market will do all that it can to purge you from the workforce. You will get sick. The fine print Terms & Conditions that no one, anywhere, ever reads will bite you in the ass at the worst possible times. There is much we can do to prepare ourselves to weather everything that life is going to throw at us, but we can't make ourselves invincible.

This is a generation that sees everything they do wrong as someone else's fault but everything that happens to other people as a matter of personal responsibility. Reading a tale of hard working, well intentioned people getting reamed by a corrupt system even as they work themselves to literal death might be an eye-opener. Sure, it will sail right over the heads of some of them. I feel, though, that the understanding that the world is not fair, life is hard, and getting by is often a tremendous struggle is a necessary precondition to having meaningful political attitudes. The idea that everything that happens to individuals in our society is their own fault poisons our entire culture, from our politics to our communities. People like Sinclair saw through this over a century ago, but somewhere along the way we chose to forget.

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51 Responses to “THE HAND OF FATE”

  1. NickT Says:

    I think America has grown steadily more willing to tolerant sadism, blatant cruelty and greed over the last thirty years. I suspect that this is linked to the strange idea that people get what's coming to them/victims are by definition guilty. It seems to me that as a society the US has gotten very good at ducking responsibility and hitting the snooze button on its conscience.

  2. J. Dryden Says:

    Well, that settles it, then: Ed's a Commie.*

    *OK, no, not really, but I kinda miss the days when one could at least be accused of something tangible like being on Mother Russia's payroll. Instead, when we point out the degree to which life sucks unnecessarily for so many of us, we're met with a much less cohesive (and coherent) tirade about individual liberty and the opportunities that abound and why America is the greatest country ever and something something Obama.

    I watch the talking heads, not just on Fox, but on channels across the spectrum, and they seem to be speaking from a collective assumption that people in America have every opportunity in the world to make good, rational, informed decisions that can only lead to success if made with their God-given foresight and buttressed by their endless capacity for hard work. (The only distinction is who the talking heads are blaming for the failure of these bright, shining avatars of humanity to thrive.)

    And I think: "Where the fuck *are* all these supposed people? Is there a teeming mass of Horatio Algers out there and I just happen to be on an alternate commute-time, so I constantly miss them? Because the people I'm surrounded by are over-fucking-whelmed by the demands of the next few hours–never mind tomorrow or next week or HAHAHAHAHA retirement, as if that fucking existed anymore."

    And so, I have come to the absolute conviction that the great cognitive dissonance is this country is this:

    Nobody on television knows anything about the lives of those who are not on television. But everyone who is not on television believes that those who are on television know best. They do not, but they will blame us when the misery of our lives proves their ignorance.

    That's what I teach my kids. I don't know if it'll stick.

  3. Dr. Mac Says:

    Excellent.

  4. middle seaman Says:

    My view of the young generation differs drastically from the post. That does translate into saying the post is wrong. Although I had thousands of students, we hardly ever deviate from the technical matter on hand. Or, I simply know very little about them.

    Young people I am familiar with are my kids, my wife's kids, and kids of close friends. Invariably, these kids are realistic, smart, sophisticated and excellent at what they are doing well. They are not anywhere close to the post's kids.

  5. wetcasements Says:

    I dunno. You kind of are invincible when you're young. You've had part-time jobs but "real" work is something you line up after graduation. I can't blame young folks for their optimism. I mean, if they don't have any then we truly are fucked because I certainly don't have any to share.

  6. NickT Says:

    @wetcasements

    Having recently read the truly appalling dialog between Keller and Greenwald in the NYT, my optimism has decided to hoist the black flag and start slitting throats as the only sane reaction to a deranged world.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/28/opinion/a-conversation-in-lieu-of-a-column.html?_r=0

    "Dear Glenn,

    “Nationalistic,” your word for the “mindset” of the American press, is a label that carries some nasty freight. It is the dark side of the (equally facile) “patriotic.” It suggests blind allegiance and chauvinism. I assume you do not use it casually. And I can’t casually let it stand."

    I found that passage particularly vomitworthy, but Keller's assessment of David Brooks is arguably worse:

    "Dear Glenn,

    Your apparent contempt for David Brooks is revealing. Presumably what disqualifies him from your category of “real conservatives” is that he puts reason over passion and sometimes finds a middle ground. As Lenin despised liberals, as the Tea Party loathes moderate Republicans, you seem to reserve your sharpest scorn for moderation, for compromise. Look at today’s Washington and tell me how that’s working out."

  7. Talisker Says:

    Bravo, Ed.

    The same attitude scales up to international relations. If other countries are poor and chaotic, it is because they made Bad Choices. So we are absolved from caring too much about the plight of a child in, say, Haiti, because it's the job of the Haitian government to sort it out. Now, there is a grain of truth to this — Haiti has had some remarkably psychotic rulers. But it's a bit much to expect its current inhabitants to suffer for the sins of the Duvaliers, and the whole premise ignores the larger historical forces that have made the USA wealthy and powerful and Haiti destitute.

  8. Talisker Says:

    @middle seaman: I don't think Ed is saying his students are bad people. They may be bright, enthusiastic, optimistic and hardworking. They probably feel sorry for those who live less pleasant lives than they do.

    But they could be all of those things, and still not appreciate how the world can arbitrarily screw someone over.

  9. Major Kong Says:

    Boy, that's a lesson I learned the hard way.

    Separated from the Air Force in 1992. Right in the middle of a recession. Nobody hiring, unemployment running out, savings dwindling, medical issues.

    OhmygodwhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdo?

    That's when I came to realize just how easy it is to fall through the cracks in our society.

  10. c u n d gulag Says:

    On the other hand, if you're not optimistic and unrealistic when you're young, then you're already a Conservative.

    And ready to be grifted for whatever money you'll ever have, by religious and political grifters who live off of the misery of others.

    Or, of course, become a grifter yourself.

  11. Doctor Rock Says:

    Manos

  12. Waspuppet Says:

    "What if your job gets outsourced to Asia? Well, I would never enter a field where that could happen …"

    You're gonna be a plumber? Why are you in college then?

  13. Major Kong Says:

    @Doctor Rock

    I see what you did there.

  14. Sarah Says:

    I'll just leave this here.

  15. Sarah Says:

    Oops, forgot to quote the specific phrase to which I meant that as an answer:

    As a consequence, many readers were more apt to moralize about personal responsibility than to sympathize with the extent to which the characters were brutally and systematically destroyed.

    Aaaand I join the call for an edit button.

  16. anotherbozo Says:

    This may be the best post on the Internets at the moment. As well-reasoned and -written as it is convincing, Ed. And, of course, as depressing.

    Maybe the fast food workers' attempt to unionize is the light at the end of the tunnel? The flickering candle in the rain? An attempt to re-start an engine that's in the junkyard? One problem the Yute of Today face is that the corporate forces that decide their [individual] career fates are so hard to see, or comprehend, harder than in the days of the Triangle Shirt-waist factory or sweatshops. The invisible hand of the marketplace likes to stay invisible as much as possible.

    It occurred to me some time ago that the Poor of this country are the only Poor in the world who feel apologetic about their condition. Thanks to our myth of Individual Responsibiltiy. As a son of the lower-middle class who was nevertheless somewhat upwardly mobile, I remember my shock when encountering some genuinely rich kids: that they didn't seem especially smart or deserving, in fact no more than average, just richer. Daddy and Mommy were pretty mediocre, too. Then later with my first job (temporary) at the Dept. of Human Services aka Welfare that many Poor people were at least as smart and quick as I was. So much for Meritocracy.

    Now as to my field: fine art is the ultimate bastion of Individualism, right? And yet as a 70-year-old artist I was brought up short by Ed's observation that "As you age, the market will do all that it can to purge you from the workforce." The art market loves (1) blue-chips (aka living old masters who fetch high prices) and (2) the Young and Promising (the equivalent of IPOs, with their career trajectories in front of them.) It has little use for many my age, however fine our work is/has become/has remained. Hence the mythology that serves the market obtains even here. This is not to snivel for myself; being this age I naturally know at lot of old farts who are doing the best work of their lives and can't get a show anywhere. Poor investments, no youthful mystique, 1000% growth potential unlikely. Make room for the recent art-school grads, coming to town by the truckload, reinventing the wheel and calling it New. God help them if Daddy didn't provide a substantial nest-egg. So my point was that even in this rarefied statum the same values obtain.

  17. grumpygradstudent Says:

    This is absolutely dead on.

    I teach about urban poverty. I spend weeks discussing racial discrimination in the housing market. I ask them how the neighborhood a person grows up in might impact their life outcomes.

    I'd guess 80% of the comments have to do with cultural things like not having good role models.

    Only about 20% have anything to do with material deprivation (neglect by local governments, bad schools, lack of available low-skilled jobs, exposure to environmental toxins, etc).

    They just aren't raised to think that way, it seems.

    I have no clue whether this is unique to this generation, is simply a trait Americans tend to have, or perhaps just something common to affluent youth. I think Ed is right that the k-12 system does tend to constantly reinforce a meritocratic worldview, and as college students, this is the self-selected population of students who bought into the rhetoric. Maybe? I don't know.

  18. Nan Says:

    @grumpygradstudent, it is not unique to this generation. I taught Intro to Sociology in the '90s using Wilson's "When Work Disappears." I'd guesstimate that out of a typical class of 60 students, 2 or 3 displayed glimmers of understanding structural causes of poverty. Those kids tended to be from places like Flint or Pontiac.

  19. Anubis Bard Says:

    I think you're exactly right on the cultural poison that is our chimerical meritocracy. For the most part I work on helping advocacy groups communicate about policy issues to various kinds of publics. The endlessly recurring obstacle is that the majority of people cannot grasp how policies can solve anything. After all, personal responsibility is the key, so the constructive role of policy in society is vague, if not incomprehensible. Liberals are less blind to it, but they are still intensely ambivalent about who deserves what. And so the curse of mealy-mouthed liberalism comes from the same font as vicious conservatism.

  20. Jacquie Says:

    Excellent and thought-provoking post, Ed. I haven't read The Jungle yet, having never been assigned to do so, but I may just mosey by the library and grab a copy now.

  21. Well mostly Says:

    Excellent post. Stories are powerful, they can help explain things or explain them away. Which one depends on the listener, or reader. The Jungle must sound like a Bangladesh shirt factory to college students – something very far away. Good to hear at least one prof still assigns that book and encourages struggling with those themes.
    The musical chairs nature of our market-based economy can seem like a lot of fun until we realize the 'losers' don't get to stay around and gobble the party snacks. They have to go home and don't get invited to the next party.
    The only popular stories (theories or ideologies) explain all that in ways that don't make people feel like shit or have to look too deeply at the set-up of the party. Yuck, Joel Olstein comes to mind. Damn! That smiley grifter gives me the creeps. Yet thousands flock to hear his nice little explanations every week.
    I hope Malcolm X makes the reading list too!
    And can we talk about the ones not in college?

  22. charluckles Says:

    The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath. Two books that helped to obliterate my preconceptions about poverty and our so called meritocracy.

  23. Kulkuri Says:

    I think George Carlin summed it up pretty well. The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.

  24. Xynzee Says:

    I wonder how much other environmental factors come into play. In this case many of the variables to life have been pushed out of the way.
    • Clean drinking water, we flush our toilets with potable water.
    • Food available all year round. Fruits, veggies, etc. no need to learn canning. We no longer worry about droughts in the cities. We just source food from wherever and it magically appears on the shelves.
    • We can go pretty much where ever whenever we want.
    • Childhood killers controlled — where else would the Dr Jenny McCarthys get an audience?
    • Light, heating, cooking on demand with a flip of a switch. No exerting yourself.

    This all goes swimmingly until nature intervenes. One good snow storm, hurricane, earthquake then we realise just how vulnerable we are. Then we put it behind us and we return to our dream of video entertainment.

    If you've never worked w a SAfer watch them. They have a phrase "I'll do that just now."
    It does not mean what you think it means. You need to ask, do you mean NOW now, or when you get to it?

    Bus schedules in Africa are a movable feast. Because a sudden rain could have bogged the bus. Enh! It happens.

    So when the "basics" in life seem pretty much under our thumb and under our control, why not our careers and financial stability too?

    Ah yes the Market. Talk about a capricious and unforgiving god. Even that was under control for nearly 50yrs. Then we deregulated, and we're back to where we were.

  25. Doctor Rock Says:

    My parents were very well off, I grew up in a growing area with a healthy economy. I was indoctrinated with all the bootstrap, individual responsibility stuff from an early age by my Reagan worshipping father. I went to a very conservative Catholic school from elementary school through high school (Planned Parenthood is an abortion factory! God and all your dead relatives are watching you masturbate!)

    And you know what happened to me? I came to my senses by my early 20s and am, in the words of my lovely cousin, a "socialist faggot."

    Past a certain point, I can't blame culture or indoctrination. Past a certain point, we're adults who have to think for ourselves. Past a certain point, their upbringing is no excuse, it becomes just a basic failure of empathy. A failure of humanity. So yes, I ironically believe in "individual responsibility" when it comes to holding monstrous and dumb beliefs.

  26. Michael Says:

    I've read The Jungle. I would love to know what other books are on the syllabus.

  27. Brian M Says:

    What I think is ironic is that a strong safety net FACILITATES the striving of our Horatio Algers and their pursuit next Big Thing. If you don't have to worry that leaving the stifling government or corporate job means no health care (or starving), maybe you will leave to pursue your dream and create something great?

  28. waspuppet Says:

    "Ah yes the Market. Talk about a capricious and unforgiving god. Even that was under control for nearly 50yrs. Then we deregulated, and we're back to where we were."

    I thought I'd lost my capacity to be shocked, but MAN I can't believe it hasn't penetrated the mainstream consciousness that capitalism was regulated and wealth was redistributed in what conservatives would call the golden age of this country. Then, in an attempt to recapture those glory days, we undid all that, and (according to conservatives) everything sucks. HELLO?!?

    I was hoping John Boehner's comment a few years ago, and the reaction to it, would resonate: He said President Obama was "ruining the America I grew up in," and anyone who knows anything about the country that conservatives claim to love would instantly know that when John Boehner, born in 1949, was growing up the top tax bracket was more than twice what it is now and private-sector union membership was about six times what it is now. Of course it didn't happen.

    "The art market loves (1) blue-chips (aka living old masters who fetch high prices) and (2) the Young and Promising (the equivalent of IPOs, with their career trajectories in front of them.) It has little use for many my age, however fine our work is/has become/has remained. Hence the mythology that serves the market obtains even here."

    Same thing happens to playwrights.

  29. GunstarGreen Says:

    @J. Dryden re: "Nobody on television knows anything about the lives of those who are not on television."

    This bears particular emphasis.

    Every time a talking head on a news network or talk radio show utters the phrase 'we the people', or uses the word 'us' to imply some sort of solidarity between them and their audience, my blood boils just a little bit hotter.

    The people sitting in studios, getting paid more to run their mouths for three hours a day than the vast, VAST majority of their fellow Americans get paid to bust their ass for 10 hours a day? They have not one fucking clue what it's like to be an average American.

    I was one of the lucky runs. I happened to be born pretty smart and possessed of the right kind of nerdiness to be deeply interested in computers. I happened to have parents that cared deeply about my education and went WAY out of their way to ensure that it was good despite the mediocre school system in my state. I happened to live in a state that heavily subsidizes college-level education for in-state students, and happens to have one of the best tech-oriented universities in the nation. I rolled an incredibly good round of Life-dice by pure happenstance, and it has given me a very nicely-paying job in a field I enjoy. I'm not wealthy, by comparison to truly wealthy people (the kind that have trust funds), but I am very comfortable and have good prospects.

    I can't even conceive of the kind of money that the talking head class makes. We're talking orders of magnitude more bank than I'm making. Taking my paycheck and adding a couple of zeroes on the end. That's how far above ME they are. And as for me? *I* have no clue what it's like to live the life that my parents and everyone else I knew growing up have lived. I don't have any clue what it's like to work two full-time jobs just to make ends meet and scrape out a meager existence, like my mother. And if I don't, how can our media personality overlords?

    They can't. They don't. They just get paid very, very well to pretend that they do. And the idiot masses believe them, because it's easier to believe them than to do something about all the shit that's wrong in this country. It's easier to believe nonsense than to get up off of their asses and become the agents of desperately-needed change.

  30. ladiesbane Says:

    While not disagreeing with your point, I just want to point out that college students who matriculated fresh out of high school are still children. Many of them are still wholly or mostly supported by parents, with zero life experience. They might be physically mature, but not cognitively. They are children when it comes to these things.

    I don't think they should be chided for their puerile statements (however maddening it is to hear adults speaking like grammar schoolers) but I don't think it should be allowed or accepted. TEACH THEM! Do whatever you have to do to pound this stuff into their heads. They may not get it now, but you are planting seeds that will bloom when they experience real-life injustice.

    If they are rich kids, though, and insulated from real life, it may be time for desert island logic exercises that strip them of privilege and resources. Sort of a haunted house experiment for the bourgeoisie.

  31. grumpygradstudent Says:

    "TEACH THEM!"

    Tryin!

  32. Mo Says:

    Saved vs Damned religious belief has to be called upon the carpet here.
    Religious belief gets too many free passes, and is a major reinforcer of this poisonous attitude.

    Tell me the religious right hasn't been festering since Eisenhower and hasn't grown like a giant boil.

  33. Da Moose Says:

    Bringing this to your attention in case you've not read it yet. Seems like something you'd be interested in perusing. It's also partially in line with the theme of your blog entry:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/27/opinion/sunday/slaves-of-the-internet-unite.html?pagewanted=all

  34. Leo Artunian Says:

    "This is where, as critics both liberal and conservative have often moaned, the constant self-esteem building of kids born in the 1990s shows its ugly side."

    With all due respect, Ed, there are good reasons why school kids are told that their choices will determine the course of their lives: In many cases, the choices children make in the present do have pretty clear and manifest consequences in the short run. If you don't stay clean and neat, you'll be known as "The Stinky Kid." If you don't do your homework, you won't know what you need to know later on, and you'll get bad marks. If you stay up late you'll be tired in school the next day.

    Admittedly, these are choices that are already reserved for a privileged few; but those kids need to learn that there are aspects of their lives they can exert some influence over by the choices they make, so they will learn to make better choices rather than poorer ones. If this leads kids to assume they control all aspects of their future lives by their current choices, they will be disabused by life (or by Ed, if they're lucky) soon enough.

    There's a reason we make a distinction between children and adults, and adults are fools if they understand the world primarily on the basis of what they learned in primary and secondary school. But — speaking from experience — it is a hard job to try to drag college-age students into an adult awareness of the nature of the world and their own privileged situation. Maybe it would help if we could push our opinion leaders to acknowledge the role of chance in the world and one's one life, as many elites did during the Renaissance. O Fortuna, indeed!

  35. YouAreABadHistorian Says:

    Oh bullshit. Voltaire made fun of a young, inexperienced person embracing the idea of a just world 250 years ago. The term "Just World Fallacy" was coined in 1966 and was at the time discussed as a basic human tendency. It's kind of built into religion.

    There hasn't been a single historical age which wasn't informed by such thinking and it's endemic to the American identity. One of the earliest pilgrim texts rationalizes the fate of a sailor who got swept overboard by saying he deserved it because he was swearing. Whether it's Indians, Women, Blacks, Workers – anyone with a grievance has been told the system works and they weren't doing it right.

    The only reason the New Deal era so embraced the idea of blameless hard luck was because enough white guys suffered. As detailed by writes such as Ta Neshisi Coates, the New Deal embraced a significant amount of discrimination in order to get passed. Such rhetoric didn't magically disappear then reappear with Reagan and you know it. Hell EVEN UNIONS used "the system works" to rationalize discriminating against women, blacks and outsiders.

    So it's not about "constant self-esteem building of kids born in the 1990s". It's about the victim blaming rhetoric which America was built upon. You've mentioned being a conservative when you were younger, was that because your mommy and daddy spoiled you?

    Every time you post these sweeping "get off my lawn" cliches about young people, I wonder how you keep a job teaching history. In this one you are so into bashing your students using A 100 YEAR OLD BOOK which address the same issues you fail to grasp this as evidence such things are a constant.

    The refusal to grasp the human condition indicates your frequent contemptuous rants about your students are confirmation bias. Your bitter attitude towards kids (and delusions about how things used to be) lead you to only notice when students confirm your low opinion of them.

    I'm certain lots of students are well aware of the issue, but won't talk to you about it because your assumptions are obvious. It's also likely you have confused a willingness to hope for the best with feeling entitled to the best. Because you are spouting that "kids these days" crap. And if history proves anything, it's people who talk about kids these days aren't paying attention to anything but their own fear and anger.

  36. anotherbozo Says:

    YouAreABadHistorian is suggesting that the union movement didn't help, at least for a time, to level the playing field? Or that unionization did it inadequately and unfairly because of bias against women and minorities? Two different arguments. He/she sounds fuzzy-minded to me. But then I'm not a historian.

    I was going to post (now that it's late in the day, when everyone's gone home) another positive note. Ed's bleak reports always force me to try to find the silver linings in the hurricane. In addition to the McDonald's union movement, which might be the first sign of rebirth, there is another reality I'm aware of. Recent immigrants have long impressed me as having no truck with the meritocracy bullshit. Where they come from, there was no such mythology and plenty of corruption/plutocracy to contradict it anyway. Guatemalan kitchen helpers are more politically savvy than our home-grown college graduates. So I say immigrants from all parts, but maybe the Americas, the Caribbean and working-class Asia particularly, might be a voice of reality with this equalitarian nonsense. Belligerent or cynical, ones I've met are not likely to be pie-eyed about their chances at wealth or misty about the probability of economic equality. Some are admitted socialists, when they trust you enough to tell you. How numerous they are I don't know, but immigrant numbers are growing and they, like their European counterparts a century ago, may make a difference.

    It's a hope.

  37. ladiesbane Says:

    Another support for the post's perspective is the horrible prevalence of sexual assault in the teens/early 20s. That age combines the worst of both worlds: adult power with a childish lack of empathy for others.

    This judgmental, heartless outlook can linger even without the cushion of privilege, especially for certain religious types. But a lot of it gets back to basic training. Think of the girls and young women who judge their friends for being victimized. In part, it's because they were trained by parents who created the punishment/reward dichotomy: good things come to good people and bad people get punished, therefore when bad things happen, the person deserved it. It's messed up, but it passes for logic in a certain parenting style.

    As for the folks who think it's just youth-bashing, it's not. Most people recall quite clearly the horrible arrogance mixed with sublime ignorance that they shared during that horrible developmental stage. It's our job to be understanding of it — but also to educate it out of the young.

    Grumpygradstudent, my hat's off to you.

  38. mzrad Says:

    I have a sustainable food & drink website and would love to do a book review of a well-executed graphic novel of _The Jungle_. Does anyone know anyone interested in such a project?

  39. mothra Says:

    Gotta remember that when "The Jungle" was written, people had been getting screwed over for years. People always worked M-Sat. Didn't get paid time off, except MAYBE Christmas. Workers were routinely injured/killed and tossed aside. EVERYONE knew someone to whom this had happened. People now can't even imagine such a world–although we slowly, slowly are devolving back to it. So to your students, The Jungle is mostly a really gross tale about nasty practices in packing plants (nasty practices that persist to this day). Don't know how to make them realize that this story is just as fresh today as it was then. Just too hard, what with everyone having an IPhone in their pockets.

    What flummoxes me is that this is the first time they are encountering "The Jungle?" I think I was assigned that in junior high back in my day. Yikes.

  40. Benny Lava Says:

    It has been a while since I read the Jungle. But didn't the unions prove to be a worthless exercise? Wasn't the structure problem the workers faced the policy of companies trying to convince immigrants to move to America in the first place? That they flooded the labor pool with unskilled applicants, lowering wages and increasing profits. I mean wouldn't Jurgis or what's his name have been better off staying in Lithuania?

  41. YouAreABadHistorian Says:

    mothra: "People now can't even imagine such a world–although we slowly, slowly are devolving back to it. " Yea, because it's not like millions of people, mostly young, participated in a nationwide protest movement which lasted months until it was violently oppressed in multiple major cities. Oh wait…THEY DID. Not only does this post pretend Occupy didn't happen, it ignores all the websites and social networks filled with young people complaining about the economy. It's like none of that matters next to some allegedly naive comments which apparently represent his entire campus and a generation.

    anotherbozo: You miss the point: attacking "kids these days" for buying into the Just World argument is wrong as there is no magical era where that rhetoric wasn't use to blame some group for their misfortune. During the entire 20th century opposition to every movement, be it race, gender class or even labor received significant pushback from those willing to rationalize the misfortune of others as some inherent weakness on their part. Even at the height of union popularity (30s? 50s?) other groups were getting victim blamed and even unions were still being demonized as lazy cheats by the increasingly non-union middle class (remember red squads? McCarthy?).

    ladiesbane: "As for the folks who think it's just youth-bashing, it's not." The post singles out his current students as being worse, a product of "constant self-esteem building of kids born in the 1990s". How is that not bashing today's youth? You may recall being the same, but Ed is targeting this generation as inferior.

  42. ladiesbane Says:

    Ah, it's not *just* youth-bashing. As in, "not only."

    There is some, and I take it to be the inevitable result of busting ass to teach a group of people who are at a stage that is frustrating to deal with. I believe that the trend toward giving all children participant ribbons, etc., was esteem-draining for most kids rather than esteem-building. My take is not to blame the kids who show the ill effects, but to blame their parents.

    But that only can apply to children. Once they are adults, they will be held accountable for their selfishness and they will affect others through voting if nothing. They need to learn the cold realities. It's hard to do that when another adult is paying your way in every respect and cushioning all life's blows. And it's hard to work up much empathy for healthy young adults who are functionally dependent children AND who sneer at the poor, sneer at the marginalized, sneer at difference. I can easily understand how trying to teach a room that is 80% oblivious brats would send a person to the soapbox.

  43. Ursula Says:

    I'm late to the party too, and YouAreABadHistorian made my point, albeit a little more cruelly than I would have.

    The period between The New Deal and Reagan's election were a blip in history, a singular event in America that had no equal at any other time for any civilization before it. And even then, it shut out a lot of people. It was, in part, only tolerated because of that, and the desegregation of it (from a race and gender perspective) led to the dismantling we have just witnessed.

    When I was a child, my mother bought a book called "The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible" written/pieced together by a man named Otto Bettman in the 1970's. It was a series of small chapters with political cartoons, drawings, and photographs from Reconstruction to the Great Depression on all kinds of topics. It's available from Amazon for about $11 and, IMO, is a good summary of what America is *really* like after you scratch through the "land of opportunity" bullshit.

  44. April Says:

    I currently live in China, where I make a pretty good salary compared to the cost of living here. Hence I have an Ayi (maid) who comes to clean twice a week for four hours total for the princely sum of about 22bucks. (Don't yell…I pay her more than anyone I know pays THEIR Ayi.) On Wednesdays she comes and goes while I'm at work. So I leave a messy house and come back to a nice clean one. It's a magic self-cleaning house.

    Now, in the past I raised two kids alone, have worked two jobs, did all my own everything…and while I've never been poor poor I could see those people from my porch (so to speak), so I have a small idea how hard life can be.

    Last Wednesday when I came home to my magic house it occurred to me that someone who was raised really rich would have lots of magic around them. Not only would the house clean itself, but the car would stay gassed, the fridge full, the food cooked, clothes cleaned and put away…and while that person would be aware (possibly only barely) that these were things being done by actual people, they would never really understand what it's like to have to do all that stuff by themselves.

    Is it possible to have empathy for a situation one has absolutely no clue about? I don't know.

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  46. mothra Says:

    "Yea, because it's not like millions of people, mostly young, participated in a nationwide protest movement which lasted months until it was violently oppressed in multiple major cities. Oh wait…THEY DID. Not only does this post pretend Occupy didn't happen…"

    Dude. Millions? Come on, now. Yes, there were protests, but millions of people? I think you are overestimating by more than a few hundred thousand. I don't see any of them continuing, however. Problem is, it takes years and years of protests and civil disobedience to make a difference. Ref. civil rights protests. Part of the problem with the Occupy Wall Street protests was that they lost their focus rather quickly. All of a sudden it became about an amalgam of issues and there was no real leadership.

  47. YouAreABadHistorian Says:

    The reason I'm so critical is Ed has an entire section devoted to cognitive biases.

    http://www.ginandtacos.com/category/ed-vs-cognitive-biases/

    He makes great points about hindsight and survivor bias, which are subsets of selection and confirmation bias. We are naturally prone to amplify what supports our feelings and omit what doesn't.

    Thus it bugs me when he indulges in sweeping statements about his students and kids these days when this topic just oozes cognitive bias.

    When people go off on kids these days, they favor only that which confirms their annoyance, while handwaving the same behavior in other other ages and groups in order to justify their feeling these spoiled brats are uniquely damaged, rather than merely human.

    I've noticed this is a problem with some teachers. They forget they are growing more experienced each year while each new set of students starts at square one. The increasing gap between seasoned pro and fresh ignorance is frustrating, but it is not students getting worse, but one's own patience.

    I sincerely doubt Ed is "trying to teach a room that is 80% oblivious brats" who are warped by a unique level of parental coddling. He's teaching a group of young humans, who can be that way no matter their background.

    After writing multiple angry teacher rants, one would think he'd eventually make the connections between these and his posts about bias. Especially since his writing indicates he was equally insufferable as a youth.

    This, however, would mean admitting these students aren't uniquely spoiled and right now this concept is providing some emotional satisfaction he needs to indulge.

  48. Bernard Says:

    one other important aspect of the ignorance that is not particular to this generation of kids Ed is talking about is the "Calvinist" form of religion that America has adopted to promote this "if you don't do it yourself, you are a sorry excuse for a person" religious version of the American Dream. the Republican version is takers vs. makers. Calvinism is the inherent belief that we are all bound to win, and if we don't, it's our own fault, not in any way related to the society we live in.

    and boy do we live in a hate filled amoral, psycopathic Lord of the Flies society. with the Jungle being one particular expose about what a fucked up society we are.

    another reason i detest Regilion and the Daddy followers.

    i have always worked with Evangelicals, i guess i was meant to develop empathy towards the ignorant and the blind who believe such trite filled nonsense about the inherent infallibility of our Economic jail we live in, aka Capitalism. though, now the Debtcropping system is becoming apparent now the "easy" lifestyle has passed. at least now the Elite are clawing back all the goodies from the Capitalist system FDR stole from them with the New Deal.

    it's payback time, since St. Reagan decided it was time for "a Rising Tide to Life All Yachts." the Elites are taking everything they can since the Republicans and Democrats have decided it's time to return to a sharecropping system of Crony Capitalism/Fascims, whatever the right word is for the 3rd world Banana Republic we are now. of course the Best is yet to come as the Greed of the Elites intensifies.

    the last 40 years are what the Republicans /akd Powell Memo/ decided for us, as to what America would be once Business's plan for economic control would look like.

    That today's kids have no clue about how we got to where we are today is just further proof of George Carlin's comment about being asleep to believe in the American Dream.

    the Republicans/Democratic ownership by the Wall St. Elites is well crafted and engendered after 40 years. which is partly why OWS was crushed. Ameican doesn't need "no stinking Liberty" from
    Calvin's version of Economic LIberty.

    thank St. Reagan and his fellow Republicans for starting the ball in motion for the Jungle to return, not just in the workplace, but in the entire realism of American Life.

    Don't like 3rd world Banana Republics? move to Latin America where the Lies of the American Dream have been exposed. we have many years under the
    control of the new Plantation/Banana Republic system ahead. Maybe the Kids today will recognize that and start to change it. we can only hope.

  49. Nandemosan Says:

    "This is a generation that sees everything they do wrong as someone else's fault but everything that happens to other people as a matter of personal responsibility."

    Shunted over from Walcott's blog.

    My experience is different. I see my students, as most of us were to one degree or another, as mostly liberal and more likely to agree to collective action, at least in the political sphere, than what your experience suggests.

    I think the questions the students ask about the characters and story in "The Jungle" reflect more a greater awareness than previous generations about personal responsibility and find my self as well, if not asking out loud, in my head as to why the sad Palestinian (Pakistani, Indian or whoever) man lamenting his poverty and who difficult it is to earn enough money to feed his wife and eight or even four children. One might have a bit of sympathy if it were 1813. Not so much in 2013.

  50. Horace Boothroyd III Says:

    There is a lot of sadism over at dailykos.com – man, those ineffectual pseudoradical wankers are easily led and easily distracted but they sure do know how to run a witch hunt. Just let a paid NSA disruptor troll show his face and the whole site goes bananas, slamming people around and denouncing each other as Republican Infiltrators. One would think that they regard government surveillance as the Worst Thing Ever, except that they can't be bothered to get off their lazy butts and organize any response more sophisticated than a half time bleat of victimization.

    Such is the state of the American Left in the early 21st century. No wonder the teabaggers had such an easy time taking over. With opposition like this, the baggers should take the White Hut easily in '16.

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