Friday, July 13, 2012

'I Said I'm Not Concerned About The Very Poor...'

The title quote is, of course, from Mitt Rmoney.

I received an email today from the Harris County Democratic Party which contained a statement that "nearly 30% of Houston’s population lives below the poverty line," I did some searching, and allowing for the expected political exaggeration, the figure is probably about right. In the 2010 Census, the number seems to have been between 19% and 22%, depending on whose word you take, with the brunt of the burden falling on young adults ("26.1% of those under the age of 18"), the elderly ("14.3% of those 65 and older") and people of color. That was two years ago, and I'm sure things have not gotten better since then.

One of my favorite mystery/crime fiction writers is Sara Paretsky, whose novels star a woman private detective named V.I. Warshawski, a child of Chicago's South Side. Paretsky's works appeal to me enough that I own most of her novels, despite my living a block from a public library. At present, I'm reading Paretsky's novel Blacklist, which is set in the period immediately following the 9/11 horrors, and depicts characters many of whom are obscenely wealthy and one of whom is a poor Arab boy in Chicago, accused, apparently falsely, of terrorism because he let his visa expire and... well, the cops needed to show they were doing something about terrorism in those insane times... excuse me, these insane times. Paretsky's determination to write such a novel came from a personal experience of falling under suspicion when a woman saw her working on her notes for a novel and mistook the notes for actual plans for a terrorist act. The essay about that experience used to be online, but apparently she has turned it into a book, Writing in an Age of Silence, in which Paretsky "explores the traditions of political and literary dissent that have informed her life and work, against the unparallelled repression of free speech and thought in the US today." As you can tell, and as best I remember the web version of the essay, Paretsky doesn't spare the lash when confronting political repression.

Why bring Paretsky into this? That's easy: she contrasts rich and poor in her novels with an acerbic style apparently born of experience... of the low end; even the best and most successful crime fiction writers seldom experience wealth. Her character V.I. is highly aware, moment to moment, of the class distinction that requires much of her and demands little or nothing of the wealthy people she encounters in her detective work.

In my days as a musician, I worked for several dozen rich people; for better or worse, they are a primary source of demand for live chamber music and can afford to hire groups for their social events small and large. On the whole, I found these wealthy people to be polite to me (if somewhat patronizing), and a few of them even thought it was important to pay me on time. [/snark] But by and large, even the politest among them were utterly certain that I, along with everyone else who entertained or fed their society events, existed solely for their benefit. I have never personally been poor... my parents came damned close one year, but Dad found work in time to prevent us from bottoming out... but it is very easy for me to understand how Mittens is "not concerned about the very poor." He doesn't have to be. He doesn't even have to identify with them emotionally. As in Lily Tomlin's Phone Company skits, his attitude is "We don't care. We don't HAVE to care." And the best evidence from his years at Bain Capital demonstrate that uncaring outlook. Personally I think that is a grievous flaw in a potential president.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Listen to Sara Paretsky reading from one of her essays... this is well worth your time!


  1. The entitlement mentality of the wealthy is absolute. It's very difficult to make friends with that class because they always expect something in return for the friendship, which they suppose is a nobless oblige. It's all about the money, which with a few exceptions, when loss changes the calculation considerably. The one exception is the mature, gay man of breeding, who is always used at table for the liveliness of his gossip and conversation.

  2. "The entitlement mentality of the wealthy is absolute. It's very difficult to make friends with that class..." karmanot

    karmanot, that is one of the central themes of this novel. It is a lesson I learned in my high school years; by a long chain of events, I ended up going to a public high school in an über-rich neighborhood... it was a real trial by fire for me in learning to deal with rich people, and frankly, it wasn't much fun.

    BTW, I finished reading the novel. Most of the ending was sad. Still, Paretsky is a superb writer, and has a good perspective on major issues from the viewpoint of her lower-class detective heroine.



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