Monday, April 21, 2014

American Self-Reliance and the Futile War on Drugs

According to Coontz, there is a myth that has been perpetuated through culture that the American people have always been self-sufficient and individualistic. Coontz examines what it is that American culture looks at as "hand-outs" - land, trading and bartering, government services, and more. She starts with a glance at the collective nature of the European settlers and how the helping hands of Native Americans as well as other neighbors helped to establish a living space that is so often viewed as an individualistic realm of self-sufficiency. Her argument is thus that this has never been the case, but rather there has always been a system of help for all people. These sources have been within the family and external to the family, meanwhile marginalized folks have often formed solidarity in helping each other out in terms of socio-economic help. This is why "acts of benevolence" as Coontz puts it, acts of giving money or other goods from person to person was securely seen as normal (216).

Later in her argument, she debunks the myths associated with the images of the frontier family and the suburban household as financially sufficient. Not only are the ideas modified to make these livings more noble and self-sacrificing, but government assistant in these areas was literally the only way to survive in the rural, uncivilized West (219). Where there was nothing established, community thus needed to be relied upon for tools, food, water, building and other tasks, while the government provided the land on which people lived, water for crops and drinking, and protection from outside forces.  Coontz then goes on to make claims about the 1950's suburban household's false reputation at being completely individualist. While there did happen to be an economic boom in the years after the second World War, much of home-owning and educational progress that is noted was the effect of laws like the those that aided returned GIs. New ownership rights were enhanced to encourage more investments in housing (221-2), while the entire structure of towns and cities were being remade by the government with the introduction of highways, suburbs, and newly changed housing governance. Thus it appears that the average American family had more individualistic tendencies than what we see now, when, really, there has only been a change in the face of what the money and government assistance looks like.

In another piece of work called "The Futile War on Drugs", Elliott Currie, the myth of individualism is flipped on its head by the exploration of how social structures like the economy effect people in the working class at the everyday level. With the industrial, blue collar jobs shrinking, there is a more displaced work force. Currie claims that "the maldistribution of job opportunities between suburbs and inner city was exacerbated by the deliberate restriction of housing opportunities for low-income people in the job-rich suburbs - and even deliberate resistance to extending public transportation from the inner city to suburban worksites, which meant that the new jobs were often as unreachable for poorer inner-city residents as if they had been on another planet," (353). Not only are jobs disappearing, as we see with outsourcing, the jobs which are available are moving away from the access of the poor. Currie cites a growth in low-wage, part-time jobs, "fierce oppositions to raises in the federal minimum wage" (355), and underemployment as sources of this economic downturn that effects the working class and poor at the base. 

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