Saturday, February 24, 2007

I finished reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickled and Dimed last night. I know, I'm like the 75 millionth person to read it. Just hold on a sec. Kust wanted to mention one particular point of interest. In one portion of her project Ms Ehrenreich was working with a maid service cleaning houses. She found herself learning to resent the home owners she was working for. This isn't terribly surprising, nor do I blame her at all for that. Here's the interesting bit--just as she was getting ready to quit and move on to her next city, she told her coworkers that she was really only there to research her book. In the ensuing discussion Ms E asked about her coworkers attitudes towards the wealthy homeowners. She was surprised to find that none of them felt any resentment or hostility towards them. The said that they were hoping to someday be in such a position themselves.

Leaving aside the likelihood, or lack thereof, of middle aged house cleaners to attain the resources to someday hire out there own help, I think there is another interesting thing at work here. In his seminal work Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, Helmut Schoeck points out that envy is much more likely to occur between near equals. Ms. Ehrenreich several times made mention of the fact that she was "only visiting" the world of the working poor, that she always knew she had her other, upper-middle class life to go back to. I would suggest that her problem with her clients probably stemmed from the fact that although she was not one to use a maid service, she was of the class of people who COULD do so. Probably some of her friends and neighbors used such services.

A twelve-year-old boy on the outdoor basketball court does not envy the success of the NBA star. The recent college star who failed to make a pro team might. That's not a comment on Ms Ehrenreich's character, just one on human nature.

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