Social Question

trolltoll's avatar

What do you think of this excerpt?

Asked by trolltoll (2570points) August 5th, 2016

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘If you’re so smart, why ain’t You rich? ’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand-glued to a lollipop stick and, flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.

Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves. Once this is understood the disagreeable behavior of American enlisted men in German prisons ceases to be a mystery.

-excerpted from the monograph (no title) of Howard Campbell, Jr., American-German playwright (c. 1930s-1940s).

Do you agree or disagree with this characterization of the American lower class?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

41 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

It is somewhat accurate, although it was written in the 1960s by Kurt Vonnegut.

trolltoll's avatar

Yes, I know that, but let’s just pretend that it was really written by a totally not-fictional person named Howard Campbell, Jr.

Seek's avatar

It is sublimely accurate.

trolltoll's avatar

I wanted to focus on the words rather than the speaker. If I had come out and said that the excerpt was written by Kurt Vonnegut, who was writing from the perspective of a fictional American-German Nazi propagandist, it might have had a non-neutral effect on the way people are inclined to interpret it.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I think it’s one of the most insightful things I ever read. The diatribe neglected to mention that it is the rich who work tirelessly at promoting a contempt and disgust at poverty, fomenting the belief that poverty is merely the result of laziness and therefore a matter of choice. This explanation not only absolves the well monied for the glaring poverty which they both initiate and exploit. It carries the bonus of implying that poverty’s contrasting opposite (obscene wealth) is virtuous regardless of the methods employed in its acquisition.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Statement is pre-Internet.

Just how then did the American self hatred trend spread?

stanleybmanly's avatar

@trolltoll Vonnegut was a man whose true genius will never get its due. Just reading that excerpt demonstrates that Vonnegut appreciated that no one understood human nature nor exploited it more successfully than the nazis.

trolltoll's avatar

@SecondHandStoke probably through airborne and/or venereal communication.

trolltoll's avatar

@stanleybmanly it should be noted that the Nazi author of these paragraphs was said by some to have had the highest I.Q. of all the war criminals who were made to face a death by hanging. So it goes.

trolltoll's avatar

Most of people here have expressed moderate or strong agreement with these paragraphs. Do they ring less true, then, knowing that the author’s intent in writing them was to increase anti-American sentiment and inculcate support for the Nazi regime?

SecondHandStoke's avatar


Vonnegut did get his due.

Remember his cameo in Rodney Dangerfield’s Back To School?

Seek's avatar

Wisdom is wisdom, no matter how come by.

trolltoll's avatar

@Seek that occurred to me as I was writing the question out.

Jaxk's avatar

Socialist propaganda. This country was founded on the principle that everyone can succeed and not be confined by the circumstances of their birth. We have gradually subverted that principle with the idea that if you give all the money to government, they will distribute it more fairly. The Nazi’s themselves should prove that the government doesn’t do that. Poverty in the US is defined by the by the standard of living in the US. What is defined here as poverty is defined elsewhere as wealthy. Socialism will tend to level the wealth but it will make everyone dirt poor. Government is not the solution but rather is the problem (thank you Reagan)

trolltoll's avatar

@Jaxk I am somewhat confused by your comment because it does not seem to relate to anything in the excerpt. I believe the author is just giving his opinion on the American class structure and how it is perpetuated. I don’t think he is calling for the redistribution of wealth, or offering any sort of solution to the problem of American poverty, really.

As for America being the land of equal opportunity where anyone can succeed if they just work hard, we know that isn’t really true. Socio-economic mobility is low in the United States. If it were really true that everyone has an equal chance of success regardless of birth, then parent’s income level would not be an accurate predictor of their children’s future income level. It’s pretty much a given that, with a few exceptions, children who are born to rich parents will grow up to be rich adults, and children who are born to poor parents will grow up to be poor adults.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Poor here is wealthy in many other nations. While the gap between the rich and poor is far too wide there is still great opportunity here. People are not starving, most do quite well. Things are vastly better now then when those words were written. I do not generally agree with that excerpt today. That said it is not that uncommon to come across the attitude that being poor is the person’s fault. A lot of times it is but not exclusively. The shrinking middle class is deeply concerning…but america is not flooded with masses of poor. People are still immigrating here because of the opportunity. Getting to lower-middle class is still somewhat easy. It’s not a bad place to be either. It’s getting harder shockingly quick though and if the trend does not slow, stop or reverse my opinion of the excerpt could change. Getting past lower middle class is something few can do. The lopsidedness of wealth is not confined to america either.

trolltoll's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me even in the United States, poverty is an incredible burden. Yes, it is nicer to be poor in America than in the Philippines, but it is still really tough to be poor here. Poverty can ruin a person’s quality of life, shorten their lifespan, sap away their physical health, destroy their mental wellbeing and self-esteem, etc.

Just because it is shittier elsewhere doesn’t mean it isn’t shitty here.

Seek's avatar

Having long been a poor American, I’ll say the hardest thing about it is the lack of community.

People with even a little more than you have display it openly and look down their nose at you. They teach their children not to talk to you or look at you. You become invisible at best, and often scorned.

I’ll never forget working for the county government, for $6 an hour, and hearing a wealthy man who was living on his grandfather’s money (having never needed a job himself) say, “What is this affordable housing requirement? ALL of this county is affordable housing!”

Really, bro?

At least in other countries, the poor people are a community. They live together, support each other. This every man for himself American version of poor is very, very lonely.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It’s a mistake to congratulate ourselves that our poor are better off than those in poverty elsewhere. Of course there are people in the world who would feel fortunate to sleep on our sidewalks. But that is a distraction from the BIG question. Why are there such levels of endemic AND INCREASING poverty in a nation with the enormous wealth of the United States? And more importantly, how is it that all of that wealth continues to concentrate ever more decidedly at the top while the bulk of the population watches its standard of living slide Southward? Does anyone here care to take the position that the 2 trends are unrelated?

stanleybmanly's avatar

@Jaxk That socialist propaganda is nothing compared to the bullshit in the myth that this place was founded on the principle that everyone could succeed and not be confined to circumstances determined by their birth. The place was established EXPRESSLY to the benefit of white men of property, AND NO ONE ELSE. This fact is compounded immeasurably by the fact that in this land declaring all men created equal, ⅓ of the population were slaves or indentured servants SPECIFICALLY confined by the circumstances of their birth.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

It’s not shitty here. Things are quite good, not perfect but generally good. The excerpt pinpoints america but it’s really a global problem. But yes, if you are poor it sucks. Nobody is disputing that. The mistake is not saying it sucks less to be poor here but to say that america somewhow can alleviate the burden of being poor completely. I certainly don’t think it deserves applause to say that the poor are better off here but it sure is not a mistake to say it either. All that said there are a couple of things that are very alarming to me.

The financial crisis: The simple fact that this happened at all is quite solid proof that things are not as they should be and nothing is really in place to protect average citizens when these animals are running wild in our financial institutions. I don’t know a single person who was not negatively affected by it. Time for banking reform.

Our healthcare system: It sucks. Insurance, pharmaceutical and other healthcare companies are outright gouging us. Right out in the open. Have a medical problem and need some life saving meds? Prepare to get fucked. The healthcare reforms we just did have not stopped this. The people, institutions and corporations with all of the financial resources are running amok. Socialism will not fix this, gov’t in general has pretty much been infiltrated by them. Asking or mandating gov’t fix this is laughable. It’s basically up to us to fix things. I don’t have a lot of good answers for how to do it either. One thing though is that a lot of it still relies on our participation. We still can do things like form proper labor unions and barganing units. The lack of community thing here is a serious boundary in that respect. I agree with @Seek about that.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, I agree as one who is walking the walk of the poor now after losing everything in the recession. Work, home, plowed through my life savings trying to hang on over a 3 year period of unemployment and then, the saddest of sad, had to file a Bankruptcy which was just finalized in May. Decades of perfect credit, comfortable living, enjoying a few of the finer things in life to trying to make ends meet on about 1/5th of my old income. It sucks beyond words and for someone who really likes who they are as a person I have found myself feeling very down on myself, and for the first time in the history of my life I catch myself mentally engaging in negative self talk.

Being poor really takes a toll on your self esteem, I am feeling better lately with a move to a new little home, blissfully alone again after having housemates for the last 3 years and a new work situation as well, but… I am, basically, screwed forever after as someone who lost it all in their middle 50’s. Short of winning the lottery which I don’t play anyway, or finding out I have some long lost rich Uncle out there that has bequeathed me their fortune, there is no rebuilding on the horizon pushing 60 in a couple years. It sucks but, nobody ever said life is fair. The trick is to catch your negative self talk before you get stuck in the negativity loop and buffeted about like a revolving door in a tornado.

Something many are unable to do. It takes effort, like everything, and reminding yourself that who you ARE has nothing to do with what you HAVE is, at times, an hourly challenge.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@Coloma Serious words there. Totally agree, You are not defined by your class but by your well-being. Any day above ground is a good day and any day that you can feel content and happy is an exceptional one.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@Seek That every man for himself thing as well as the isolation, all of it is encouraged and enforced. Once again, who benefits? @ARE_you_kidding_me The financial collapse, the convoluted rip off healthcare system, who benefits form them? @Jaxk Government IS the solution for some. Who gets rich DESPITE the regulations and meddling that are killing YOU? In fact, who’s getting rich BECAUSE of it. Who is transferring what should be your living to their untaxed accounts off shore?

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

What kind of question is that? The super rich and powerful do.

Jaxk's avatar

@trolltoll – It is an obvious attack on our capitalistic system. I found your link quite interesting but I doubt we have the same take on what it means. Kids get their world view from their parents. Their work ethic, skills, and values. We have been trying to convince the poor that it is not their fault for decades and that hard work is not the differentiator. Hard work won’t guarantee success it will only tip the odds in your favor. If you believe that you can not succeed, you most likely won’t. Being born poor does not seal your destiny nor does being born wealthy. If you are born wealthy most likely your parents were hard working success driven people and that would be instilled into you. It’s much like the kids that are abused as children are more likely to be abusive parents themselves. It’s not the system, it’s the psychology. That’s why we have a lot of generational welfare. If you have welfare parents, those skills/attitudes are passed on.

@stanleybmanly – It is the government that has caused that problem. Expecting government to solve it with more government is futile.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

No, bloated gov’t is part of the problem.
As gov’t influence gets larger ours gets smaller but the rich and powerful seem to continue to get more stacked cards in their deck. A smaller more streamlined gov’t is harder to manipulate but has the cost of pushing more social responsibility on the people.
Again asking for bigger gov’t is really pushing responsibility that should be ours out of sight and out of mind. It’s not a good plan.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

@Jaxk said “It’s not the system, it’s the psychology.”

So very this.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I know, that does say quite a bit in just a few words.

trolltoll's avatar

@Jaxk why is being critical of capitalism a bad thing? Note that he is not saying that socialism or communism is better.

Jaxk's avatar

@trolltoll – Nothing wrong with criticizing capitalism but if you do you should at least use an example that pertains. I don’t believe he does that and I’ve already said why. Poverty is a condition that has existed since the dawn of man, blaming it on capitalism is beyond the pale.

trolltoll's avatar

He never actually refers to capitalism, so I’m not sure I agree. How can you be sure that he is actually blaming capitalism for the condition of poverty, rather than exploitation and brainwashing?

Also, do you disagree with anything that he has written? I am beginning to see why you believe it is socialist propaganda, but is there not truth in these words?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Re @Seek It is sublimely accurate.. No fucking shit. It’s disgusting, really.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Everything old is new again on many different levels. In the US I see the rich being blamed for the bobber baron days of old where people did get very rich exploiting the poor or driving competition out of business to build monopolies. With the so-called entitlements Pres. Brown unleashed on the US, (and nowhere near correct), it has left a vast segment of the US populace in a financial quagmire they cannot escape, or even be made to believe they can escape. The government and the wealthy who want to look good, swoop into the hoods of America and say ”you are broken, I have the fix, and I will correct your situation”, but do little to help but make it worse. The wealthy and the church that do anything do it in holiday season, or periodically then back to their paneled houses they go. The government once they get the financial fetters on you they do not allow you to take them off without leaving a limb with it. A woman, who has 5 children through three baby daddies, can make more off the backs of her bastard children than she can work fulltime stocking shelves at Walmart. Like communism if you can get the same as someone slacking why put in the extra effort? Can you blame her for sitting at home watching Dr. Phil while waiting for her appointment at the nail salon before getting a weave or tint? If she has the audacity to even try and be better or more educated the government will pimp slap her back to reality. She starts school, the government cuts her off, she starts a training program, the government cuts her off, if she makes any money, whatever she made the government hacks if off the back end to make sure she never gets off zero.

Those who are not on the government dole don’t like the welfare mom because she gets to play all day and they are paying for it. They do not like the rich because the rich have broken through the ”C-note Ceiling” where now their money is making money so they can play and still eat. Larry Lunchmeat is working his tail off and still getting nowhere, he doesn’t see he is partly to blame for his own quicksand because he buys into ”I want it all, and I want it now” and unlike grandpa who would save for it or lay it away, Larry Lunchmeat charges it and now carries a debt. If he lived less large he would have money to go play more with or invest to be like Mr. Gilmore, that somewhere he can have his money work for him as Mr. Gilmore’s cash work for him.

Schools teach people how to look good to Mr. Gilmore so he can hire them to server out their JOB (Just Over Broke) sentence. Schools should be teaching students how to build wealth, if they are not Larry Lunchmeat and friends will blame it on the rich trying to keep their secrets to make sure the middle class never catch them.

Everyone has so much latent distrust of each other in the US thinking someone is trying to get over on them, that is why we are supposedly the richest nation, or close to it, and have some people who can spend $400 on Prada sunshades while the person they stepped pass is living on the street with a cup in his hand hoping change drops into it.

trolltoll's avatar

@Dutchess_III it is so accurate and relatable, in fact, that it is easy to forget that it is indeed Nazi war propaganda. Which makes it all the more amazing, really.

flutherother's avatar

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the middle classes are squeezed out of existence and this is accepted as a fact of nature rather than an abomination that requires fixing. What was true then is even truer today and this in a country that proudly declares ‘all men are created equal’.

ucme's avatar

Baby, life’s what you make it…

Coloma's avatar

There is nothing wrong with Capitalism, there is something wrong with greed.
If there is a need, take the CA. Goldrush as a historical example, the need for picks and shovels and gold pans skyrockets. Well…supply and demand, and not a whit of greed in marking up your supply of picks, shovels and gold pans by maybe 20–30% to glean a profit. Now, to mark them up 200% or 500%, that is sheer greed.

Making a fair profit is fine, raping others is not. The rape of American Capitalism is brutal, just look at the housing market. I know someone whose family home is now on the market for 1.8 million, after being purchased, in the early 1970’s for about 300k.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@Jaxk Capitalism exacerbates
poverty. The government is the problem only because the ruling class owns the government. The accelerating accumulation of wealth at the top is only possible because the rich own the government. Your view of the situation as one in which the government is doling out money to the undeserving poor is viewing the scenario through the wrong end of the microscope. Stop looking at who’s on the dole and concentrate on where exactly it is all that
money winds up. Those folks receiving that money are merely the conduits through which the loot passes on its way to the top. The system amounts to a ponzi scheme wherein profits are privatized but expenses are shifted onto taxpayers. THIS is what the rising deficit is actually about. Our economy is increasingly sustained by government entititlement programs for the simple reason that those are the dollars that are cycled through the economy to do uselful work. Capitalists increasingly avoid the old model of building wealth. The factory with troublesome employees is for suckers. The new wave is about creative and exotic methods of separating the lower classes from their money, then instead of circulating it through the economy as the poor are compelled to do, removing the cash and concentrating it in the hands of people who do no productive work. Let’s say that I get a social security check, but it’s barely enough for me to get by. Every dime of my money goes back into the economy where it does productive work, including the money I pay in income and other taxes. Now Mr. Moneybags accumulates more money than he can possibly spend, but the productive work his fortune achieves is about buying up public officials to insure that he isn’t inconvenienced with the troublesome taxes afflicting the rest of us, or paying creative people for schemes around his fair sharing of the load. The fact that we live in a society where the rich get richer while everyone else either stagnates or falls behind as the deficit soars means that your version of capitalism now amounts to a massive government financed transfer of wealth. We on the ground no longer have the means to sustain the accumulation of wealth at the top. The deficit represents the transfer of the wealth of our descendants.

Strauss's avatar

@stanleybmanly Capitalism exacerbates poverty.
I would say that unfettered capitalism exacerbates poverty. You are exactly correct. The business interests have successfully eliminated any regulation that protects the worker or the consumer.

Jaxk's avatar

@stanleybmanly – I think we’re not really that far apart. It sounds like you think the government is corrupt and bought by big business to transfer wealth to the rich. Basically governemnt is hurting the economy rather than helping it. I also believe that government is hurting the economy but not because they want to rather because they are incompetent. When we pass new laws invariably they don’t do what the politicains say they’ll do. When everyone was screaming about the salaries of CEO’s, Obama put a ‘Pay Czar’ in place to insure CEOs were not being over paid. What happened though was that their pay was moved to more stock options and lower salaries. The result of that change made their overall pay skyrocket. If you recall the DOW crashed to about 6500 in 2009 so when Obama ‘Fixed’ the CEO pay problem their stock options were granted at the bottom and have skrocketed ever since. Instead of fixing the pay problem he made it worse. Another example is Dodd-Frank. It was intended to fix the ‘too big to fail’ problem. What it actually did was to create enormous expense that only the biggest banks could afford. So now the smaller banks are gobbled up by the big banks making them even bigger, with less competition, and even more likely to be ‘too big to fail’.

Are these things done because the government is bought by big business or is it because the government is incompetent? Personally I think most elected officials want to do the right thing. They just don’t know what that is, they’re politicians. Politicians have only one skill. That is to give a speech with that sounds good with little or no information. To tell the people what they want to hear. Maybe I’m wrong and you’re right and the politicians really are despicable people. I’m fairly certain some of them are but I’d like to think most are not.

Answer this question




to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther