Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Campus Event: Dr. Lisa Dodson on "The Moral Underground: How Ordinary People Subvert an Unfair Economy."

This event is part of Berea College's Convocation series. This convocation took place on November 29, 2012, and it was the last convocation for the fall 2012 term. I am running a bit behind on posting my notes of convocations that I attend. Part of the reason I am posting these notes now is that I just started reading her book, The Moral Underground, and I want to have these notes handy in case I decide to review the book later. I will be upfront and say that given the current U.S. climate of blaming and demonizing the poor that is so pervasive, much of what Dr. Dodson says would probably not be very popular with certain people. I know that she probably would not have been very popular in a place like Tyler, Texas where I used to work. Here in Berea, where folks have a stronger sense of social justice and caring for the community, the message fits in well.

The only quibble I had with this event is that it was too short. As she was getting interesting, she ran out of time. By the way, that is a bit of a disadvantage with the convocation series, especially the ones that happen in the daytime. They try to keep them to about 50 minutes no matter what (about the length of a class period). They take place on Thursdays, and after the convocations, campus usually holds labor meetings (every student meets with their work unit), and students are fairly anxious to make that meeting on time, so convos are naturally restricted. I did mention to one of the convo committee members that they really should consider a different weekday to avoid that conflict. I don't think much will come of that, but I did mention it. Anyhow, let's leave that aside and get to my notes.

Notes are what she said that I heard and jotted down. I may add comments or clarifications in parenthesis:

  • The country (the U.S.) has become unbalanced in a short amount of time. In the last 25 years, the disparity mirrors Third World countries. 
  • In her research, she has uncovered an underground response. Dr. Dodson argues that this response matches with our history; it is a response to unfairness (and the U.S. has a history of responding to unfairness). She argues that this is the best of the nation, even if it is hidden. However, she has been challenged on this notion. 
  • Why does inequality matter? 
    • The national well-being declines with the erosion of children's well-being. 
    • Child health and education are undermined. 
    • More births to unmarried and teen mothers and social ills. These are ills that do not have an impact on the wealthy. 
  • Low wages and family unfriendly jobs. Low wages and little to no benefits, flexibility for parents, etc. Also, no paid leave days for care of new children-- none, zero. (And before anyone wants to bring up the Family and Medical Leave Act, which employers love to hide behind to say "hey, we do something," keep in mind that FMLA does NOT provide for paid leave. It is unpaid, and it has all sorts of other restrictions on it). 
  • Politicians and policy makers fail or neglect to see the faces of people. 
  • Poverty conditions are often under the radar. The poor keep low profiles. Why? Because social and governmental agency response is not to help, but to punish. For instance, taking the kids away instead of helping with child care. 
  • Morally ambiguous moments become more common in conditions of inequality. With unfair rules, some managers and others in positions of authority or in positions to help "bend" rules for their workers. 
  • Question: do we have a responsibility to care for others beyond ourselves? (We pretty much know the answer most conservatives and right wingers in the U.S. would give). Those in the moral underground conclude that if they stand idly by, then they are colluding with unfairness. Small, quiet, hidden acts of civil disobedience or human decency. 
You can learn a bit more about Dr. Dodson from her official website

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