Sunday, November 16, 2008

#17 - "This Land is Their Land" by Barbara Ehrenreich

I don't have much to say about This Land is Their Land by Barbara Ehrenreich (2008). I read Nickel and Dimed by Ehrenreich at some point in the past. I found it interesting enough, but it always felt a little off to me. I sometimes felt that Ehrenreich wrote it as if she were exposing what it was like to work for low-wage employers like Wal-Mart. Granted I never had to fully support myself with those kinds of jobs, but I'd done enough menial work to not be too surprised by her story. But not everyone has had my experiences, and perhaps it was eye-opening for some people to actually see the process of an industrious woman work full time and yet still have so much trouble supporting herself.

Anyway, Nickel and Dimed couldn't have been that bad because when I saw This Land is Their Land by Ehrenreich propped up on the display table at the library, I grabbed it for a quick read. This Land is Their Land is comprised of a number of short essays outlining the many problems in our country and society. The essays are very short--between three and five pages--and most have the running theme of protecting the downtrodden middle and lower classes and calling for more equality.

Ehrenreich makes strong calls for change, and I'm glad her point of view is out there and, with any luck, part of the discussion. And, on the whole, I enjoyed reading her essays. However, there's not too much to this book. The essays are too short to get into a detailed discussion of the issues, so I was left with a couple pithy sentences saying how bad things are and that things need to change. The rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer. Americans are floundering in debt, getting screwed by the bigwigs and corporate America. The healthcare system is in shambles and we are in trouble. Maybe I found these sections even more pessismistic and disturbing because right now I am unemployed and uninsured, so I found it more than a little disquieting to read horror stories about how we're all doomed.

In addition, this book is not where to go to get facts and figures or a thorough discussion of the issues. Ehrenreich's politics and point of view is consistently left, probably more so than most Democrats. Considering that my point of view is very similar, this didn't bother me in the least. However, Ehrenreich only has a couple of pages to make her point, so there is no room to get into the complexity of issues or present both sides. In addition, not much is cited in this book, and even when she does cite something in her text, her information often comes from other writers or politicians' websites. Perhaps I am too cynical, but I would never believe or use statistics obtained from a politician, so for me there was sometimes too little foundation for what she was saying. I never got the feeling that Ehrenreich was being dishonest or twisting the truth, just that sometimes she didn't go into enough detail to give some of these complex issues enough justice.

Perhaps that's why I enjoyed her section on "Getting Sex Straight" the most. I feel much stronger about social issues than complex, economic problems where cause and effect can be argued for eternity. But Ehrenreich highlighting some of the absurdities of teaching abstinence or the irrationality of banning gay marriage were pointed, amusing, and fun to read. I also especially liked her essay titled "Owning Up to Abortion" where Ehrenreich describes her frustration at women who think they are somehow on a higher moral plane when they have abortions because their fetuses have birth defects rather than a simple "run-of-the mill" abortion, or even women who have abortions but yet describe themselves as pro-life. "The freedoms that we exercise but do not defend, or even acknowledge, are easily taken away."

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