SECOND THAT EMOTION
Jackson Lears’s splendid review of Martin Jay’s book Songs of Experience [“Keeping It Real,” June 12] demonstrates the absurdity of Richard Rorty’s dogma that there is no experience unmediated by language. This logocentric proposition–which Rorty shares with many French thinkers–is unsupported by evidence. Infant researchers and developmental psychologists demonstrated the existence of pre-verbal experience experimentally in the 1980s, while psychoanalysts like Erich Fromm and R.D. Laing wrote persuasively in the 1960s about emotional experience inexpressible in language.
Lears is also amply justified in lamenting the eclipse of E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams. Their current neglect speaks volumes about the intellectual avant-garde, whose verbal pyrotechnics impress other academics but bear almost no relationship to the lived experience and daily struggles of the masses. He should also be commended for posing the obvious question of whether there is some elusive link between (1) the poststructuralist courtship of violent death and the postmodern mass media’s incessant simulations of it; and (2) the avant-garde’s pursuit of shattering epiphanies and the popular culture of apocalypse. If the Rapture crowd and the avant-garde are brothers under the skin, it may be because popular “culture” and the academy are both inflected with necrophilia, which Fromm defined as a (largely unconscious) attraction to death and decay, and a corresponding aversion or hostility to life. Necrophilia in this sense is not a sexual perversion but a more encompassing and diffuse passion that may or may not seek an overtly sexual expression. Fromm contrasted the necrophilous orientation of late modern (and early postmodern) culture with the predominantly biophilous (life-loving) orientation he hoped to encourage through a renaissance of socialist humanism. Indeed, Fromm coined the term biophilia a full decade before E.O. Wilson took it up (without proper acknowledgment).
MOTHERS: OVERWORKED, UNDERPAID
Oak Park, Calif.
Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner’s “The Motherhood Manifesto” [May 22] hit close to home for my wife and me. As first-time parents, we took advantage of California’s paid family leave. It requires employees first to use any accrued vacation and sick time and then to take one state-mandated week, unpaid, before benefits (about 40 percent of pay) kick in. So parents who may need paid sick time later in the year must take it unpaid. And with the vacation time gone, any downtime must wait until the following year.
In our case, due to a difficult pregnancy, my wife had already used her allotted sick days. She planned to take eight weeks of maternity leave (we could afford no more). Upon giving birth, she used her two weeks of accrued vacation time and the required unpaid week before the benefits began. Since we both could not afford to utilize paid family leave without falling into the dreaded “poverty spell,” I used my accrued vacation time (two weeks) and then went back to work, leaving my wife alone with the exhausting task of caring for our newborn.
We get so angry when our so-called leaders crow about “family values.” If they really gave a damn about the American family, they’d work for programs to allow parents to bond with their newborns without fear of ending up out on the street.
My heart went out to the young mother killing herself to get to work by 8 am, as depicted in “The Motherhood Manifesto.” It doesn’t have to be that way. I work for a small publishing company that not only allows starting flextime from 6:30 to 9:30 am–parents or not–but also allows work at home two days a week. Productivity has soared dramatically under this policy. It doesn’t matter where the work gets done, but it does matter a great deal to parents whose children are sick or on a school holiday to be able to stay home with them without having to take time off; it matters to employees who need to stay home for the plumber or a furniture delivery to be able to keep right on working while they’re waiting; and it matters to an employee who can schedule a doctor’s appointment at the beginning or end of the day without having to take a sick day. Employers should not be afraid to try telecommuting, flextime and other family-friendly innovations. The vast majority of employees, including millions of struggling working mothers, will reward employers with much greater productivity.
“The Motherhood Manifesto” reasonably asks why flextime isn’t an option. Unfortunately, state and federal laws to “protect” workers make it nearly impossible to offer flexible working hours. Requirements for overtime pay after eight hours per day and/or over forty hours per week make it difficult or expensive to offer this reasonable (and desirable) flexibility.
When the company I worked for wanted to offer an alternate schedule (nine hours Monday to Thursday, eight hours on alternate Fridays, with every other Friday off), we had to jump through incredible hoops, including a vote by all hourly workers (about 2 percent of the company). Then we had to “adjust” the normal workweek to start on Friday at noon so that it didn’t exceed forty hours! This is clearly nonsense.
We are supposed to be leaders in human rights and a land of equal opportunity, right? So why are our mothers being left behind? Why don’t more women work together to find solutions to the problems outlined in your article? They’re too exhausted and afraid of losing their jobs!
While I agree that working parents have a lot to deal with, I am prochoice. Thus, I believe that when one has children, it should be by choice, and the choice should be made with knowledge of the ramifications of childrearing.
When my children were small I worked thirteen hours a day, seven days a week at home, and as they grew older my family workload never went below twenty-nine hours a week. In addition, I did forty hours a week of paid work. My pay, of course, was below the male average and my family work was never deemed to have monetary value, although feminists at the time figured I could be replaced for no less than $30,000 per year. As a consequence, my Social Security check is $411 per month.
To say this is shameful for a country that can lavish funds on perpetual war, killing those children I raised for free, is an understatement. It is criminal.
I’d be happy to see Mother’s Day restored to its original purpose: opposition to war. Add to that, opposition to the throwaway value of family work. It’s important to see how this is built in to our type of capitalism. So often women’s position is portrayed as “choice” rather than the systemic nature of what we face.
DON’T CALL US MERCENARIES!
The accountability, transparency and regulation of private contractors is clearly of concern to the American people and Congress. Though we agree with some of Jeremy Scahill’s sentiments in “In the Black(water)” [June 5], we are concerned about his characterization of the industry and his colored descriptions of our purpose and that of the industry as a whole.
The International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), far from Scahill’s negative characterization, was founded to make international peace and stability operations successful, and we believe strongly in a fair, ethical and open industry. All our member companies (which include logistics firms, medical companies, security outfits and aviation service providers) are required to adhere to a Code of Conduct that dictates ethical practices in every aspect of their operations, from hiring through to observance of human rights covenants. IPOA, along with its member companies, is currently in the process of solidifying an enforcement mechanism to address violations of its Code of Conduct. Furthermore, IPOA members have designed this process to involve multiple stakeholders, including humanitarian organizations and NGOs. The industry is unique in that it is consistently advocating for appropriate government oversight and working toward greater self-regulation.
The company singled out in the article has been a leading proponent of increased regulation, accountability and transparency, which undoubtedly is good for any industry. While we agree with Scahill’s basic sentiments, his article’s factual content, tone and slant demonstrate just how misinformed many industry critics are. We encourage Scahill to contact us prior to writing about IPOA in the future. IPOA is in the business of peace, because peace matters.
J. J. MESSNER
International Peace Operations Association
GREEN CITIES–WAY OVERDUE
Your May 29 editorial “For a Sane Energy Policy” demonstrates that along with most of the left, you don’t get it any more than those in the center or on the right. The answer to oil addiction is not higher CAFE standards, so-called alternative fuels or hybrid cars. The answer is building cities that revolve around people walking, taking public transportation and bicycling. Yes, way down in the editorial you throw in “smart growth,” but the emphasis is on maintaining auto-domination and making it supposedly work better.
First, alternative fuels will not solve the problem. Scientists at UC Berkeley have stated that it takes more energy to produce ethanol than is gotten from it. Palm plantations for bio-fuel are already replacing rainforests in Indonesia. Alternative fuels just create more environmental problems.
Second, society’s reliance on the automobile creates a culture of death. More than 1 million people are killed each year in car accidents (and add millions more killed by smog created largely by cars). Then there is the death of our cities. A city was traditionally a place where people on foot could spontaneously encounter one another. The car culture has largely destroyed this. We need to return to cities oriented around people, not cars.
Please don’t forget that one of the Reagan Administration’s highest priorities upon taking office in 1981 was the repeal of the Alternative Energy Tax Credit (and in case anyone missed the point, he ordered the solar panels removed from the White House roof). Overnight, financing for alternative-energy research was drowned in the oil industry’s bathtub. We could have been twenty-five years further down the road to a sane energy policy had those red-state heroes been thwarted in their cynical collusion with the oil industry.
When I hear that George W. Bush wants to spread democracy across the world, I can’t help thinking of the pigeon I saw spread across the road on my way to work this morning.
Foul wraith besheathed w’ cloak o’ doom a-slither worm thru ebon gloom. Pale skull becirc’ed w’ blazing thorn mock mercy-free the wake’ning morn. What spectre this? What blight o’ Man? Hey, wait a sec. It’s Coulter (Ann).
A TOWN LIKE ALICE
Roberto Lovato, in “Voices of a New Movimiento” [June 19], quotes an activist who mentions a suburb of Milwaukee called “South Alice.” The suburb is West Allis.