Pacific Theme, Broken Social Scene

Takes a minute, but then it’s there. Worth the wait.

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A thoughtful analysis of the perceived benefits in switching to electric vehicles:

Unclean at any speed

The (in my opinion, understated) takeaway seems to be that much of the conversation concerning the appropriateness of a transition from primarily using internal combustion engines to a greater proportion of pure electric or hybrid-electric vehicles comes from within an insular mode of thinking that assumes an unassailable primacy of personal vehicles. Rest assured, they’re not going away anytime soon, but if one is seriously interested in reducing the ecological costs of their lifestyle, choosing not to use a known evil is almost always better than using the lesser of two (or more) evils. The author does mention the fact that getting bogged down in the comparative minutiae serves to distract from the low-hanging fruit of doing more with what we already possess, but unfortunately that line of thinking never got anyone’s heart racing like the thought of a shiny new automobile in which to cruise the countryside, be it electric, diesel, hybrid, or otherwise. Moreover, the thought of someone walking here and there never got a capitalist’s heart racing, either.

The author also asks the question, but does not explore in much depth, how the prioritization (via tax policy and/or infrastructure) of electric vehicles may reflect an increasing political privileging of the concerns of populations that have benefited from increasing affluence and urbanization. I would answer in the affirmative, an idea which I develop further here: How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm?

Not to go all Marxist on you, but the available economic opportunities/resources for a person or a group (what could certainly be called ‘class’) tend to shape the ways in which decisions about expenditures are made. And the discussion over the relative merits of electric vs. internal combustion operate from within a paradigm that is rather exclusive of those whose available opportunities/resources might not include access to the ownership of a personal vehicle. This line of thinking is explored further here: The Transit of Privilege.

So what then shall we do? Simple. Start walking. I realize that’s not an option for many, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that within the lifetimes of those currently alive, neither will be not doing that. So for those who can, start now, and for heaven’s sake don’t make those who can’t feel bad about it. Instead, do what you can, where you are, and ask nothing more of others than just that.

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A Trenton, NJ newspaper reporter’s musings on urban poverty in the eastern US in the late 1970s:

“What’s interested me, what I wanted to do, was look at urban poverty as if it were a foreign country, expose myself to it, and see what I learned about it. I think the reason I’ve been able to persuade the paper to let me do this is that the issues I deal with on that beat are the central issues to liberalism today. What does the government do to intervene in the lives of the poor, and does it work from a strictly humanistic point of view? How are individuals, lots of them, affected by what government does? What I think I’ve found is that the liberal intention notwithstanding, liberal government programs tend to have, by and large, a harmful impact on the people they are trying to help. Social workers are people who, with some sort of academic training, are believed to be equipped to intervene somehow in the lives of the poor and make them not quite so bad. Do the feds hand out three-thousand-dollar-a-year day-care slots to the children of working women? Yes, they do. And yet the child care of choice for most working women turns out to be the extended family. And so it turns out that the feds, to my way of seeing, are handing out this money without any compelling argument that this is a useful social service with a broad impact on society. 

“Or, for example, look at foster care. Foster care is what purports to be temporary round-the-clock care for otherwise homeless children in private homes, subsidized by the government. It has evolved as the principal means by which government intercedes to protect children it perceives to be in danger, because they’ve been abandoned, beaten, neglected, or abused.

“But what’s commonly perceived as neglect is simply some middle-class social worker labeling poverty as somehow a manifestation of parental irresponsibility.

“Okay, say I’m a social worker. I walk into a home because there’s a kid in the hospital who’s severely injured. The doctor says there may have been parental abuse. I go to the apartment. It turns out the kid fell out the window. I call it parental neglect, because I’m the hypothetical social worker. After all, a decent parent wouldn’t allow his kit to be exposed to the incredible danger of a rusted-through iron railing five stories above the pavement, or whatever. But any practical person would say, “That’s simply what slum housing is like, you stupid motherfucker.” What the social welfare industry likes to call parental neglect is just a fancy new way of justifying intervention by the state in the lives of the poor. What happens is that it is a way for a bunch of middle-class people with degrees in the social sciences to end up finding work.

“What happens to the poor? Their families live under the additional stress of having their families divided, and children shipped off to foster homes. What my examination of abuse and neglect in New Jersey has led me to, politically, is that it’s turned me into an anarchist. I think that if we shut down the state agencies that intervene in cases of alleged abuse and neglect, infant-mortality rates in New Jersey would not be perceptibly worse. The problem would be that the social workers would be out of work.

“I mean, I’ve been looking at specific cases. There’s this one woman I met on Academy Street, when I was trying to see what life was like in the slums. Over a period of some three years, I saw how her life and the lives of her children were really affected or unaffected by the intervention of all these agencies. And on balance I can see no change whatever. They’re still living in a lousy slum apartment; the children are still doing poorly in school, are still subject to the dangers of sexual molestation that accompany any situation where children are unsupervised in a lumpenproletariat neighborhood. The prognosis for improved stability or self-sufficiency is just as bad as it ever was. I mean, one cannot find any tangible improvement in the life of this family as a result of all this. One can see that intervention has led the woman to be completely distrustful of these people who purport to be trying to help her. The bottom-line threat to her has been all along that if you don’t cooperate with us interveners, we will ship your kids off to foster homes. And what happens? Sometimes these kids end up in foster care for the rest of their minority. It can be argued that growing up in a slum is fraught with danger, but so is growing up in a state-supported private home with people who are told to love the kids – but not too much, because we can take them away from you at any time. And these people are convinced they can raise kids on two hundred dollars a month from the state. Maybe even have a little left over. By contrast, momma may be drunk, but at least it’s momma. I guess, actually, I’m not persuaded that the kid is necessarily worse off because of the intervention of the state; just that I can’t see where the kid and family are better off. Intervention by the state in their lives has not been on the balance beneficial, other than that it employs a lot of middle-class people, and these middle-class people are allowed the delusion that they are not completely neglecting the poor.”

 – Excerpted from ‘The Nine Nations of North America’, 1981

This man speaks the truth. Social work is a profession grounded in some very deep assumptions, many of which have been made well beyond the sight of those presumed to need the help. Social work is the clinical approach to problems born of broken or non-existent social relationships, and within the field very few workers are given the tools to re-create or encourage those relationships in a wholesome way. We patch the broken leg with the band-aid, and are somehow surprised when it hurts again the next day. Don’t know the answer to this one, but damn does it frustrate me to see it go down this way.

As Peter Maurin of Catholic Worker fame wrote in one of his ‘Easy Essays’:
The training of social workers
enables them to help people
to adjust themselves
to the existing environment.
The training of social workers
does not enable them
to help people
to change the environment.
Social workers
must become social-minded
before they can be critics
of the existing environment
and free creative agents
of the new environment.
In Houses of Hospitality
social workers can acquire
the art of human contacts
and that social-mindedness
or understanding of social forces
which will make them critical
of the existing environment
and the free creative agents
of a new environment.

See also: Classic America

SSI? Sigh…


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