Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Well-heeled vs. well-healed

Japanese World War II storage bunker on the grounds of Saipan International Airport, via TracesOfWar
A possibly trivial detail from yesterday's Brooks and the "Nation of Healers":

Earlier in the day I’d met Jade Bock. When she was 17, Bock lost her father to a workplace accident. Now she’s found her calling directing the Children’s Grief Center.
That's all true, except that the workplace in question was a Cessna 310R six-seat monoplane that the father, Jesse Richardson, was trying to land at Saipan International Airport in the Northern Marianas, October 27 1992. He was a retired Marine major who had uprooted his family from the town of Moon in Virginia's Middle Peninsula to take a pilot job with Pacific Island Aviation, based in Saipan, and he'd only been on the job a couple of months when he died in this apparently inexplicable runway crash.

His teenage daughter Jade ran away from home, not that it was home, it was a completely unfamiliar island in the Pacific that she'd just been planted in, arbitrarily, and it's not hard to imagine how intense the anger phase of her grief must have been. How she ran—from the western North Pacific to wherever it was in the US she ended up—is very hard to imagine, and the profile in the Albuquerque Journal doesn't attempt to describe it, but she did.

She finished high school, reunited with her family at some point, somewhere, made it through college and into a successful business management career, and saw her mother through a fatal brain tumor, and in 2003 found herself compelled to respond to a call for volunteers from the Children's Grief Center, which she ended up running four years later.

That is some story, as the Albuquerque Journal blogger recognized without difficulty, and it's amusing to think Brooks had no apparent idea it was there ("You wouldn't see a story if it came up to you and grabbed you by the throat!"), in spite of his fondness for the twinged heart, and his claim to be some kind of writer. Also, the way he summarizes the story has the odd effect of making it sound as if her father was a factory worker or construction worker, and there's something to that that's worth talking about.

I started thinking about her on the stimulus of a comment yesterday from drspittle:
But, I thought "The Poors" were wanton libertines who have torn society's social fabric of virtue. Now they're healers rising to repair their small piece of the social fabric. I'm confused.
Good heavens, I thought, of course not! That's not part of the Tory program! Healers are properly educated people who come to the Poors community with that proverbial bowl of calves-foot jelly and excellent moral advice. The Poors so dealt with will cease being libertines and start radiating peace and joy, and hopefully get a simple but moderately remunerative job, and not get pregnant or impregnate anybody else, as their genders dictate, until they're married. But they can't be expected to do any healing. That's for the Quality.

Thus the drug dealers' daughter in the runaways' shelter:

She’d built a family out of her friendships. She’d completed high school, learned to express her moods through poetry and novellas, found a place to live through New Day’s Transitional Living Program, found a job and had plans to go to community college.
Which is a really nice thing, no snark, except if she was really writing novellas instead of novelas it would be too weird.

But she's not going to go around healing other people, for goodness' sake. She'll be far too busy making her electric bill and car payments and keeping her children alive.

But Brooks does indeed make you feel that the deprived can become Healers.

He does it with the other main character in the column, the only one who has a name, Jade Richardson Bock, and he does with just two words in that misconceived account of her father's death, making her story sound like up-from-the-proletariat uplift when it's really upper-middle-class craziness like a novel by John Irving or Paul Theroux.

There's no reason to think he's doing it on purpose, he's nowhere near clever enough in the first place, but he's laundering the class aspect of the story the way Paul Ryan launders his autobiography, talking about his father's early death and the Social Security assistance without noting that the father was a wealthy attorney and they didn't really need the money.

[Update: Tengrain reminds us in the comments,
...and his father was one of three heirs to the vast Ryan Industries industrial fortune. If you are in the midwest and drive on any highway or use any airport, Ryan's family probably built is or some part of it. Yes, including O'Hare airport. His family for three generations has made money off the government. It was why they sent him to Law School and then to Congress, to help them make more.
Really didn't want to let that go.]

Not to say there's anything phony about Bock or her early suffering and ultimate achievement, which is not what this is about; and not to say that the working class and poor are in any sense incapable of being healers and humanitarians—there are in fact plenty of poor people spreading love through their communities without a doubt, just not endowing foundations and setting up large institutions to do it with. But if you want to integrate poor and working people into the formal apparatus of good-deed-doing and changing society you really have to have government behind them, leveling the playing field and helping them acquire the education and context and sheer leisure to do it with.

But in Brooks's Tory fantasy all that happens better without government, spontaneously, out of the natural goodness of whoever happens to be naturally good, and he actively works really hard to not see that who he believes are naturally good are the rich and well-connected.

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