American writer and journalist (1941–2022)
- No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.
- "Family Values," The Worst Years of Our Lives: Irreverent Notes from a Decade of Greed (1991)
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America (2001)Edit
- I complain to one of my fellow servers that I don't understand how she can go so long without food. "Well, I don't understand how you can go so long without a cigarette," she responds in a tone of reproach. Because work is what you do for others; smoking is what you do for yourself.
- Ch. 1: Serving in Florida (p. 31)
- What these tests tell employers about potential employees is hard to imagine, since the "right" answers should be obvious to anyone who has ever encountered the principle of hierarchy and subordination. Do I work well with others? You bet, but never to the point where I would hesitate to inform on them for the slightest infraction. Am I capable of independent decision making? Oh yes, but I know better than to let this capacity interfere with a slavish obedience to orders. At The Maids, a housecleaning service, I am given something called the "Accutrac personality test," which warns at the beginning that "Accutrac has multiple measures which detect attempts to distort or 'psych out' the questionnaire." Naturally, I "never" find it hard "to stop moods of self-pity," nor do I imagine that others are talking about me behind my back or believe that "management and employees will always be in conflict because they have totally different sets of goals." The real function of these tests, I decide, is to convey information not to the employer but to the potential employee, and the information conveyed is always: You will have no secrets from us.
- Ch. 2: Scrubbing in Maine (p. 59)
- In the new version of the law of supply and demand, jobs are so cheap — as measured by the pay — that a worker is encouraged to take on as many of them as she possibly can.
- Ch. 2: Scrubbing in Maine (p. 60)
- Maybe it's low-wage work in general that has the effect of making you feel like a pariah. When I watch TV over my dinner at night, I see a world in which almost everyone makes $15 an hour or more, and I'm not just thinking of the anchor folks. The sitcoms and dramas are about fashion designers or schoolteachers or lawyers, so it's easy for a fast-food worker or nurse's aide to conclude that she is an anomaly — the only one, or almost the only one, who hasn't been invited to the party. And in a sense she would be right: the poor have disappeared from the culture at large, from its political rhetoric and intellectual endeavors as well as from its daily entertainment. Even religion seems to have little to say about the plight of the poor, if that tent revival was a fair sample. The moneylenders have finally gotten Jesus out of the temple.
- Ch. 2: Scrubbing in Maine (pp. 117-118)
- At Wal-Mart, a co-worker once advised me that, although I had a lot to learn, it was also important not to "know too much," or at least never to reveal one's full abilities to management, because "the more they think you can do, the more they'll use you and abuse you." My mentors in these matters were not lazy; they just understood that there are few or no rewards for heroic performance. The trick lies in figuring out how to budget your energy so there'll be some left over for the next day.
- Evaluation (p. 195)
- If low-wage workers do not always behave in an economically rational way, that is, as free agents within a capitalist democracy, it is because they dwell in a place that is neither free nor in any way democratic. When you enter the low-wage workplace — and many of the medium-wage workplaces as well — you check your civil liberties at the door, leave America and all it supposedly stands for behind, and learn to zip your lips for the duration of the shift. The consequences of this routine surrender go beyond the issues of wages and poverty. We can hardly pride ourselves on being the world's preeminent democracy, after all, if large numbers of citizens spend half their waking hours in what amounts, in plain terms, to a dictatorship.
- Evaluation (p. 210)
- The appropriate emotion is shame — shame at our own dependency, in this case, on the underpaid labor of others. When someone works for less pay than she can live on — when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently — then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The "working poor," as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.
- Evaluation (p. 221)
Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War (1997)Edit
- (War) has lodged in our souls as a kind of religion, a quick tonic for political malaise and a bracing antidote to the moral torpor of consumerist, market-driven cultures.
- our incestuous fixation on combat with our own kind has left us ill prepared to face many of the larger perils of the situation in which we find ourselves: the possibility of drastic climatic changes, the depletion of natural resources, the relentless predations of the microbial world. The wealth that flows ceaselessly to the project of war is wealth lost, for the most part, to the battle against these threats. In the United States, military spending no longer requires a credible enemy to justify it, while funding for sanitation, nutrition, medical care, and environmental reclamation declines even as the need mounts. In the third world and much of the postcommunist world, the preparedness for war far surpasses the readiness to combat disease-witness Zaire's fumbling efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak of 1995, or the swiftly declining life expectancy of the former Soviets.
- it is a giant step from hating the warriors to hating the war, and an even greater step to deciding that the "enemy" is the abstract institution of war, which maintains its grip on us even in the interludes we know as peace.
- for all their failings, anti-war movements should already have taught us one crucial lesson: that the passions we bring to war can be brought just as well to the struggle against war.