Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Muddled Class Morality
DOOLITTLE: Don't say that, Governor. Don't look at it that way. What am I, Governors both? I ask you, what am I? I'm one of the undeserving poor: that's what I am. Think of what that means to a man. It means that he's up agen middle class morality all the time. If there's anything going, and I put in for a bit of it, it's always the same story: 'You're undeserving; so you can't have it.' But my needs is as great as the most deserving widow's that ever got money out of six different charities in one week for the death of the same husband. I don't need less than a deserving man: I need more. I don't eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more. I want a bit of amusement, cause I'm a thinking man. I want cheerfulness and a song and a band when I feel low. Well, they charge me just the same for everything as they charge the deserving. What is middle class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything. Therefore, I ask you, as two gentlemen, not to play that game on me. I'm playing straight with you. I ain't pretending to be deserving. I'm undeserving; and I mean to go on being undeserving. I like it; and that's the truth. Will you take advantage of a man's nature to do him out of the price of his own daughter what he's brought up and fed and clothed by the sweat of his brow until she's growed big enough to be interesting to you two gentlemen? Is five pounds unreasonable? I put it to you; and I leave it to you.
Moral arbitration is hard to escape. A lot of people who swear they never do it are probably lying. Heck, I know I do it, I've made my share of catty remarks directed at those crazy kids with their too-tight or too-loose clothing blocking the sidewalks while texting and don't think I don't know they've been on my lawn.

So yeah, we're human, we make moral judgments. But there's a big diff between being all Go Fug in your down-time and making a federal case out of it. Separation of curch (i.e., personal belief) and state and all that, y'know?

Current examples include:

- The C Street Family, consisting of lots of wacko-religious, mostly Republican Congressmen who live together and believe God has chosen them to be above the moral laws they preach should be followed by all those undeserving little people (like their constituents, parishioners and a former President). Tune in to the Rachel Maddow show just about any night to get an earful on these dangerous "do as I say, not as I do" loonies.

- Conservative shill Ralph Peters deciding unilaterally that Taliban captive PFC Bow Bergdahl is a deserter, based on nothing more than what appears to be hearsay. Essentially Peters said something along the lines of "Never mind the facts; it looks to me like he left his post, therefore he doesn't deserve to live."

- Henry Louis Gates-gate, where a distinguished and moderately famous Harvard professor was arrested outside of his home by police investigating a possible break-in. The reaction of the white racists dominating much media discussion of this incident center around how the professor must have done something to deserve his treatment, either having trouble unlocking his door or talking back to the cops. And the cops themselves, say these same racists, deserve the benefit of the doubt and not to have our "militant black" President (if our centrist Commander in Chief is a militant, I'm the queen of Romania) term their actions "stupid." Silly politician, don't you know only one side gets the benefit of the doubt here? (Pam adds another interesting dimension to this when she talks about the Ivy League Effect.)

- Dick Cheney's contention that Scooter Libby "deserved a pardon" for what we can all surmise was essentially covering up for Cheney. If you've committed a high crime of a treasonous nature, like helping to quash a legit investigation into whether a deep-cover CIA's identity was deliberately blown by your boss, I suppose it stands to reason your boss will consider you deserving. And your boss' (nominal) boss won't, because he considers you a liar and therefore he retains the right to moral arbitration of your fate. (And remember, Bush retained this right because, like the C Street fellows, he believed he was chosen by God and therefore not subject to the same moral codes as the little people.)

- The continuing obstructionist debate around healthcare reform which, at its essence, comes down to the deserving-of-profits insurance companies and Big Pharma versus the undeserving underinsured or uninsured just-plain folks. Again, it's not a matter of cost-savings, but of who deserves to keep winning.

- The situation that bothers me the most personally - the face-value opining on whether Dr. Regina Benjamin should be the new Surgeon General because she's not a size 2. Never mind that she's a lot more svelte than many previous porky Presidential picks (wow, that John Hamilton was substantial!). I think Amanda has the right of it here:
I’m not making any health claims about weight. That discussion, while interesting, is beside the point of this post. It’s enough to know that most people strongly associate health and weight. So when disingenuous sexists start to bellyache about the dangers of letting fat women out in public, they get traction, because it’s becoming increasingly acceptable to suggest that not being perfectly healthy is a moral failing that should be punished with social disapproval, shaming, ostracism, and lowered access to society.
Her entire post is well worth reading, and did a lot to inspire this post of mine.

However, even though Amanda chose to set "side the debate about the link between weight and health, even if there is a link," I don't. A couple bloggers I admire who are also outraged over Benjamin's treatment are stating as fact opinions with which I'm reluctant to agree, like Pam's "Obesity is clearly a health risk" and Digby's "Nobody disputes that morbid obesity is dangerous to people's health." I'd dispute this point, which is far from clear. You cannot tell someone's health just by looking at them! You can't know that fat people are automatically unhealthy any more than you can know that thin people are automatically healthy. I've known tons of fat and fit folks (particularly when I was taking exercise classes with them), and a fair number of svelte and sickly ones exist as well (aside from anorexics). You don't know what's going on inside someone's body just by looking at the outside. That's supposed to be what doctors and other health professionals are for. Except, of course, they morally prejudge as well; I've had doctors tell me I need to lose weight without even putting me on the scale, or panic if I've gained a pound or two within the space of a few months. Never mind that stress is far more dangerous to one's overall health than poundage. It's a good thing I have a blog to relieve this stress. Which, after all, I don't deserve.