Impractical Optimism and Voting Against Economic Interests

A hella interesting article from the Guardian — “What’s the matter with voting Republican if you’re poor?” — begat this exquisitely succinct comment (not mine) on why some people hold the hand that holds them down. (Double points for this comment coming from someone named “Professor ArseGarp.”)


September 18, 2006 1:42 PM

This looks like another example of people rallying around those who oppress them. It is the same phenomenon whereby bullies are popular in schools and why the working class fail to revolt in true Marxist spirit.

People yearn to join the upper strata, and to act against them would deny their potential membership, however unlikely it is that they would be able to join.

Many black people already see themselves as excluded from the political elite in the US and so fear nothing from voting whichever way seems rational.

However, white poor people are still believe that they are part of the ruling establishment and vote to support this perceived privilege, whatever the real cost to themselves. They are oppressed by their aspirations.

(The article is brilliant, if you care to read it. I have to comment on the intelligence and civility of the discourse over at the Guardian. Ann Coulter doesn’t write like this, and I sincerely expect cannot. After a nap and a cup of coffee George Will can get close, if he’s lucky.)

The comment eloquently expresses one aspect of my theory that impractical optimism, as much as indifference, exacerbates certain problems.

F’rinstance, many strippers who work on a self-employed, pay-to-play basis (meaning they are undocumented, and pay the club [and bouncers and DJs] to work there) resist changing to documented, tax-paying status, even if it means they take home more [and steadier] money, their workplace and their peers become more stable, and they have the opportunity for health insurance. I think this is because few strippers will admit they are stripping for a career. They are stripping to make some quick cash, or until they move into a new apartment, or until the court catches up with their kid’s dad. Even after stripping for years, and knowing of no real reason she won’t be stripping for three more, a stripper needs tremendous fortitude and honesty to sign something admitting it.

And f’rinstance — people who aren’t concerned about global warming or peak oil because “people are clever, and they’ll come up with something.” My sentiment is that when the pain of changing becomes less than the pain of staying the same, a person will change. Since I read one book (Guns, Germs and Steel) and I think I know something, it seems like opportunity is the mother of invention, not necessity. My hope is that at least the consequences of peak oil happen slowly enough that we hit a high bottom rather than a low one — and we start conserving and converting our infrastructure to other fuel resources while we still have enough cheap oil to enable it.

And f’rinstance, nearly no politician will explain what they mean by “America’s poor” when a pundit tries to nail them down — what yearly salary defines poverty? Because nobody wants to be told they’re poor — it’s a sure way to alienate people exactly as you’re trying to help them — because poor sounds permanent. Poverty sounds permanent, and damning, and full of despair. I much prefer “broke” — because you can make $40,000 a year and still be broke, if you’re foolish. Broke means can’t afford health insurance, plus can’t afford to get sick because you have health insurance but it’s not very good. Broke casts a net over ain’t-got-nothing and ain’t-got-enough — and, yeah, a couple barely making ends meet on $40,000 needs a financial advisor, not federal help, but everybody broke will sit up and listen. Because everybody’s been broke at some point — according to each’s own definition of broke. And because broke is temporary.

The conceit of many activists, including myself circa Iowa, 2004, is that people who aren’t motivated to vote (their way) are indifferent, or cynical, and a message of knowledge and hope will lead them to their cause. Unfortunately I think the case is more raw than that. I think getting people to vote their economic interests requires bad news and hard facts, and goes over like a lead balloon. “Morning in America” will plow hard facts under every time.

Until the pain of changing becomes less than the pain of staying the same.

How do you get an alcoholic to admit he has an alcohol problem? You can’t. He has to get there on his own.

Does that mean you just give up? Not exactly. You lead by example. You lead the best boozeless life possible, and make it look good. That’s a difficult enough task for any person.

A-a-a-and spent.


Draws. Sweats. Eats too much sugar-free candy.

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