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March 10, 2006


Victoria Marinelli


For any number of reasons, many people don't believe that hard work or education or responsible personal choices are reliable ladders into the middle class. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that wealth is largely a matter of luck rather than effort.
It's good that you're aware enough to acknowledge the role of privilege in your thinking here, and better still that you're willing to examine that privilege in public.

That said, this still made me shiver a bit. There were several years when I had to be on welfare. ("Had to" as in: the only alternative would have been to starve, and/or abandon my child, and/or abandon my disabled partner at the time, whose SSI claim took a full 4 years to get approved. Not that I should have to justify myself here.) And what I remember most about that experience was how the manner in which I was treated by social service/ financial workers, depending on the extent to which I used words with more than two syllables.

If I spoke as I was normally inclined to speak (I'd had some college education, but in any case had always been extremely well-read, etc.), then I was punished in oblique as well as direct ways. They would be suspicious of me, intensely sarcastic, simply nasty.

But when I dumbed down my language, and otherwise adopted those mores commonly attributed to "the lower class" (a phrase which continues to make me cringe), I was subjected to a lot less bullshit (though it was still far from a "bullshit-free" experience).

My life had become a series of strung-together experiences of hopelessness, and humiliation. I had no reason to think I'd never get out. (To whatever extent I actually did "get out.") So did I, being reasonably "intelligent" by all the usual standards (test scores, etc.), purchase lottery tickets from time to time? You bet right I did.

I can't help but think about your sincere statements made here, pertinent to your faith in God. Of course, there is the "religion is the opiate of the masses" school of thought on this.

But I, being a non-Christian, wouldn't (even fleetingly) wonder whether you were foolish or deluded for possessing, expressing, and promoting your faith; faith is an integral, human need, and we're all variously desperate for it, whatever material or otherworldly sources we may cleave to.

Thank you for your willingness to examine this, in an engaged context such as these pages offer. May you walk in peace (while avoiding coffee burns whenever possible, given your prophet's apparent penchant for elbow-jostling!).


relief - someone else who has slightly-off-center coffee habits



La Lubu

Right on, Victoria.

Hugo, with all due respect ('cuz I still think you have your heart in the right place)----why do you think hard work, education and personal responsibility are traits mutually exclusive to the purchase of lottery tickets?! I seldom buy them myself, just once in a blue moon when the take is really high. Is it the economically best decision in the world to make? Nahh, probably not---sorta like buying your coffee at the convenience store instead of making it at home and putting it in a thermos. ;-)

But my parents? They buy lottery tickets religiously. Practically the first thing my dad does in the morning is check the newspaper to see if his tickets are winners. And this is a man who's worked all his life, even as a child. In most respects, he's pretty frugal (the exceptions being his dress clothes, his car and his running shoes). But you see, all that hard work still hasn't given him a comfortable life. He's going to retire this year, and he's worried about money. My mother also worked all her life, and if I told you how much money she took home on her pension check each month (after the health insurance is taken off the top), your jaw would drop, wondering how old folks are supposed to live on that.

Now, part of the problem is that they moved a lot---which means they put money into pension plans that they never became vested in. Another part of the problem is that vehicles for saving like IRAs, Roth IRAs, and 401ks didn't exist for most of their day. Also, the cultural capital of knowing how to invest in such a manner was/is missing. Where I come from, the favorite method of investing is buying a piece-of-crap house, fixing it up, and renting it out. Folks feel more confident doing that, rather than putting money in some fund. I sock a lot of money into my 401k. Intellectually, I know it's the smart thing to do, so maybe I won't have my parents' financial worries. Viscerally, it feels like gambling.

I think this is one of those cultural differences that you're just not privy to, Hugo. Where I come from, people do work hard. They also don't have a safety net. When you don't have a safety net, you think about money in a very different way. I mean, what did your people do during the Depression? Mine were too untrusting of banks to put their money in them---and that made a positive difference. They were better off than their neighbors who socked their earnings in the bank, only to have the bank close. Think on that, ok? And then tell me again how smart I'm being by listening to all that good advice and investing like a demon. Think about all those good, hard-working employees of Enron.

It's all gambling, Hugo. It's just that for now, my odds (with the 401k) are better. That's always subject to change. But I do agree with you in general about lotteries. Even as I throw down a dollar or two on the chance of winning big.

One last thing---thanks for not saying anything to that woman as you left. I went to the store for my father to get him some lottery tickets. Right after I stepped out of line, the (middle class) man behind me launched into a diatribe on the stupidity of buying lottery tickets---as he was buying cigarettes. Yes, you could say we exchanged some heated words. ;-)

But you know what? If it had been my father standing in that line, that guy wouldn't have said shit.


I have been reading passages from the works of some of the Church Fathers for Lent- Ignatius of Antioch, St. Justin Martyr, and the like.


I'm not entirely certain how much I believe this anymore. Have yo read Barbara Erenrich's Bait and Switch? And as La Lulu points out, what about the Enron employees. Granted, one can say that they didn't make good decisions aobut what to do with their money (buying more shares of Enron above and beyond that which they had to) but it rather sounds like the equivalent of putting one's money in the bank just before the Depression hit.

It's difficult to be able to soak a divorce, a job loss, or a major illness. I make good money and have no debts, and I'm not certain how well I'd do if I lost my job tomorrow.

Anyway, before I go onto an illness-induced ramble, the thrust is this: just because someone is middle class doesn't mean that their situation isn't precarious. And if the people in the middle class think that their situation is precarious, do the people in the lower class believe that they have a chance of breaking in without massive infusions of good luck? The two are not necessarily related in cause, but they could be.

John Wilkins

A lotter ticket is on one hand, a tax for people who are bad at math, or the price of a fantasy. It's like having a drink after a long day, just without the health "benefits" or consequences. And of course, some shouldn't be buying tickets at all.

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