FEAR OF FALLING: The Inner Life of the Middle Class by Barbara Ehrenreich

FEAR OF FALLING: The Inner Life of the Middle Class

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Here, Ehrenreich (coauthor, Re-Making Love, 1986; The Hearts of Men, 1983, etc.) has moved from her usual turf--sexual politics--to the politics of the middle class. It's Ehrenreich's contention that class awareness emerged in the middle class during the 1960's thanks, in part, to the evolution of a sophisticated telecommunications system. Compared to the disadvantaged on their TV screen, the professional middle class came to view themselves as an elite. This realization proved unnerving, frightening, and guilt-producing, resulting in a transitory period of social upheaval. Why did the 1960's social experiment fail? Because the protests were directed not only at the war and the evils of poverty, but at middle-class values. Ehrenreich contends that with the emergence of Reaganomics--greed masked as economics--the country has experienced further class polarization: note the Yuppies who worship conspicuous consumption while the homeless set up shacks in city parks and streets. Rather than address the system that has created these disparities of income and opportunity, Ehrenreich berates the professional middle class for its lack of social conscience. Yet, although her plea to support the poor is well taken, it is riddled with contradictions: For one, as she points out, many members of the professional middle class are struggling to retain their current status. And Ehrenreich seems to assume an altruism in people who perhaps more believably are egocentric and survival-driven. While her tracing of the evolution of middle-class social awareness is both fascinating and persuasive, Ehrenreich's prescriptive thesis raises more question than it answers. How to motivate the professional middle class to assist the disadvantaged is surely the meat of another book.

Pub Date: Aug. 17th, 1989
Publisher: Pantheon