THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE: The Success Ideal and Work Discrimination by Clarice Stasz

THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE: The Success Ideal and Work Discrimination

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The nightmare for Stasz (Sociology, Sonoma State College) is that minorities and women are still being excluded from the American dream of economic success. It is her purpose ""to return to the old-fashioned social criticism of the Sixties"" and to create a ""new criticism. . . one that suggests fresh social and economic policies."" What we find instead is a simplistic presentation of the gap between American dream and economic reality. Stasz appears to assume either that few have realized the gap previously or that few now care as the forces of the New Conservatism threaten to erase the Sixties' legislative gains. To convince us of the fact of work discrimination, she runs through much canned history (the Puritans, slavery, immigration) to arrive at the conclusion that individualism has outstripped equality as a national goal. ""By the start of the twentieth century the inequalities were fixed,"" she informs us, undervaluing events and structural changes occurring since (the return of white married women to the labor force, the changing position of ethnic groups like the Jews and Italians on the stratification ladder). Self has taken over from society, she broadly tells us, with Werner Erhard emerging as a latter-day incarnation of Horatio Alger, both self-made men. Again, this merely simplifies to the point of distortion the works of such diverse theorists as Richard Sennett (The Fall of Public Man) and Daniel Bell (The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism). Moreover, much is delivered with a grating moralism: ""Americans will gladly play dice with the devil and chance virtue for comfort."" And, finally, Stasz's program for change is equally recycled and naive: a ""New Primer for Affirmative Action"" which would overcome problems of tokenism and half-hearted management and staff support; plus ""a new work ethos"" which would temper ""the destructive consequences of excess individualism, competition, and hierarchy."" Lots of idealism, but no new ideas.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1981
Publisher: Schocken