Equal Opportunity, Self-Interest and the White Working-Class

Equal Opportunity, Self-Interest and the White Working-Class

Sipping coffee in a Starbucks in Bethesda, a few days ago, I noticed among the affluent there, (diluted only by the Latino, Mid-east and other immigrant servers), a teen-ager in a leather jacket with the legend “Hunters for the Hungry,” over a picture of a leaping deer. The idea appears appealing. They are performing a “public service,” made even more acceptable by giving away the deer’s meat to feed “the hungry poor.”

Wait, on second thought, maybe the idea is just a way of justifying the pleasure hunters get from shooting deer. But no, the ‘hungry poor’ need to be fed, so shouldn’t the hunter’s motives be secondary?

Earlier that morning I read Catherine Rampell’s column in the Washington Post, (12/23/16), “Why the White Working Class Votes Against Itself.” One obvious conclusion we can draw is that the near-poor envy those who are poorer than they are, if someone helps them.” Rampell says this is because “No American likes the idea of getting a ‘handout,’ especially… to their layabout neighbor.” Can envy be justified because someone is poorer than you are?

A generally agreed-upon reason, promoted by politicians and the “better off” in our society, is the often-abused argument that “our democracy provides “equal opportunity to all.” How is it abused? By denying that people differ, opportunity differs, circumstances differ, and life is harder for some than for others. Our current (black minority) President, and the President-elect, are good examples—add in the (female) defeated candidate, and you see how complex “equal opportunity” can be.

Their “simplistic” view seems to be that American society needs to do nothing more for its citizens, once born. They are then, mostly, on their own—except for basic services usually more available to those born to the more affluent, have better DNA, or live in better neighborhoods.

Equal opportunity is a slippery concept too-often used by politicians and other “not-so-poor” people to excuse their envy and mendacity or ignorance of the limited nature of “equality” in our so-called egalitarian republic. The “upper levels” of the economic spectrum use it to explain their own success, unless they by mishap or happenstance fall back—as many do—into the less affluent half on the economic scale. Then, they will call the help they get “entitlements,” or justified “bailouts” for underwater mortgages, food stamps, unemployment compensation and direct subsidy.

Let’s clarify some things about “equal opportunity.” The poor do need help. Hunters for the Hungry are doing a public service, despite criticism from animal lovers—and their motives need not be denigrated. We do live in a society where deer are not the equals of humans, and so are eaten by them.

Perhaps at times it may be that “not-so-poor” white voters who envy the “poorer than they are,” the “hungry poor,” see them more like deer than as fellow citizens. But in these uncertain times, politicians, and Rampell’s “white working-class voters” who glibly use “equal opportunity” as a way of justifying and securing their own prosperity, may come to regret it.. They may actually, by their envious and self-absorbed votes against help for the “hungry poor,” have brought the “hunters” closer to their own families than they may believe.

John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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