Poor people are poor because they have bad attitudes. Huh?

Kayla Walker at Campus Progress has a great review of the book Scratch Beginnings, in which some privileged dude seeks to prove the American dream really is possible if people would just work hard enough. Well, yeah, no kidding it’s possible — for an educated white male who already lives a life of status and comfort.

Adam Shepard was sick of hearing the impoverished in America whine and complain. He was “frustrated with the materialistic individualism that seems to be shaping every thirteen-year-old to be the next teen diva,” Shepard wrote in the introduction to Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream. In a move that is reminiscent of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, Shepard boarded a train to Charleston, S.C., with nothing more than $25 in his pocket, the clothes on his back, a sleeping bag, and a tarp.

Shepard set out to disprove books like Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. He wanted to achieve the so-called American Dream—without using his college degree, friends, or exemplary credit history—proving that it is still possible in America to break one’s way out of poverty. Shepard gave himself just one year to break from poverty and homelessness. Completion of his project would be considered successful if Shepard was able to own a functioning automobile, be living in a furnished apartment, have $2,500, and have the prospects to go to school or start his own business.

Shepard later concludes that poor people could live the American dream if they’d just stop being so damn pessimistic. Hey, um, maybe they’re pessimistic because they and their families have been trying for generations to get ahead and they haven’t been able to make their hope turn into reality? Hey, maybe if society gave poor people a reason to be optimistic about the future that didn’t self-righteously blame them for their own predicaments, they’d see the future a little more brightly?

Hey, maybe you should admit that being an educated person who is able to dig your way out of a hole after a year of an arrogance soaked experiment which you went into with the least sympathetic presumptions I’ve ever heard does not qualify you to diagnose the causes of poverty in the U.S., when the people who are actually poor have done a pretty good job of diagnosing the roots of it themselves?

Kayla makes a great point as she acknowledges the obvious point that inequality is related to immobility, and it’s poverty itself that reinforces the conditions of poverty. Of course temporary, self-inflicted deprivation for a highly privileged person won’t render him socioeconomically immobile. Why are the reproductive, cyclical conditions of poverty so difficult for otherwise logical people to understand?

Ok, ok, I’m being hard on this Shepard guy, considering I haven’t even read his book. But God, even the very basic facts of his little experiment are dripping with so much privilege I really struggle to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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More from the “wealthy people have more virtue” file

Now, it’s not like I find it shocking that David Brooks would write something completely ridiculous and stupid and out of touch, but this column plugging a book which says conservatives can win working-class Americans back by addressing their needs with a bias toward the traditional two-parent family is just completely ridiculous:

Liberals write about economic inequality and conservatives about social disruption, but Douthat and Salam write about the interplay between values and economics and the way virtue and economic security can reinforce each other.

In the 1950s, divorce rates were low and jobs were plentiful, but over the next few decades that broke down. The social revolutions of the 1960s and the economic revolution of the information age have emancipated the well-educated but left the Sam’s Club voters feeling insecure.

Gaps are opening between the educated and less educated. Working-class divorce rates remain high, while the mostly upper-middle-class parents of Ivy Leaguers have divorce rates of only 10 percent.

Um, tell me again how an approach which implies working-class Americans can’t pay their bills because they don’t value their families enough will get their votes?

The dark side of wealth?

Rebecca Traister at Salon has a review of a new novel about the dark side of that upper-middle class dream land and simultaneous hell hole, Silicon Valley.

Of Jannelle Brown’s “All We Ever Wanted was Everything,” Traister writes,

“In Brown’s fictional Silicon Valley, it’s as if the fountains of money that gushed over warehouse districts and formerly middle-class suburbs had never been staunched by recession or war or reality. But she does not view this glittering stuff-machine nostalgically. The universe she has created has all the warmth and authenticity of the too-brassy dye job its heroine receives: It’s a little too lustrous to be real, too obvious a mask for the gray beneath.”

She goes on to tell us about a marriage in ruins, a meth addict pool boy, a financial rise and fall, and a newly promiscuous teenage daughter who has everyone in the neighborhood talking.

Sounds like good, page-turning summer reading to me. But it’s not like this sort of “dark side of modern suburbia” is anything new. Desperate Housewives is perhaps the most popular example of recent entertainment which seeks to show that the lifestyles of the privileged aren’t as great as they might appear on the surface, that the American dream isn’t what it’s supposed to be. No, these neighborhoods might look like something out of Leave it to Beaver but they have ‘hood drama of their own.

This sort of anti-materialism plot trope has always come across as a consolation prize to the underprivileged to me: “Sorry, we’re rich, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Honestly,” it seems to say. Now obviously I don’t think money buys emotional happiness or functional families. But it’s not like poverty does either. And at least with money we have time and energy to worry about the state of modern marriage and the politics of sexual reputations.