Hand to Mouth: The truth about being poor in a wealthy world by Linda Tirado

I hadn’t realised, until I went to a seminar called ‘How to Thrive During Your PhD’ a few months back, that the self-help industry was completely hooked into academia…or vice versa. The psychologist presenting it had the gall to show a pie chart which suggested that a lot of how you feel is your own damned fault.

the pie of happiness edited for review

I might have been shocked anyway, but to show this to a bunch of 25 year olds during an event of cataclysmic dimensions which may change their lives permanently for the worst seemed to me….let’s say cheap. Tacky. Dishonest. And guaranteed to seriously depress any intelligent person watching.

The woman presenting to us did bother to mention Barbara Ehrenreich, who writes the foreword to this book, but it is only in order to dismiss her. You can’t, apparently, create a bookselling industry and an academic genre (sic) out of realistic, pessimistic thinking, EVEN if it’s demonstrably the path to success. Positive thinking, my friends, that’s where the smart money is.

And she followed up with segments like this:

cat and guitar edited for review

Hard to believe you would do this to a group of people who are supposedly ‘high achievers’. But seriously, we had to watch a 30 second video of a kitten and a puppy being aw-shucks-cute-together and lo, witness the change in what you wanted to do. In my case I wanted to ‘exit the seminar before I jumped out the window’ beforehand, whilst after I wanted to stab my own eyes out rather than watch another kitten video ever in my life. In case you are wondering, this was a definite decline as I’m on the ground floor and hence my prior state of mood was most definitely safer.

So after I finished this book, Hand to Mouth, aptly introduced by Ehrenreich, I looked up Tirado online. My hope was that she’d finally got lucky. In my world view, the appalling things that had happened to her to date were not a consequence of a baaaad attitude on her part. She hadn’t failed to make her happiness. The USA, that f*cked up sh]tt@ry of a place, had done that for her. Her stamina for not giving in to it all was awe-inspiring. Her realism, her acceptance of the point of capitalism, that in order for a minority to live in a privileged world (darling, COVID’s been such an opportunity to slow down), people like her have to live this humiliating, exhausting existence to support that other class….this should be profoundly embarrassing for nice white people. For the 40% of happiness which they have ‘made’ for themselves (intentionally), is directly linked to the horrifying exploitation of the author of this book and the millions in the US for whom she speaks.

Life fucking sucks big time. Where’s that on the pie chart above?

And what I discovered, when I looked her up, was this. On May 29, in Minneapolis, the first night of curfew, she was shot by police after telling them she was ‘press’. As a consequence she is now blind in one eye, with some hearing loss as well. She has a suit against the police, though without being able to identify the assailant, I wonder what her chances are like.

Her Patreon page is here.

8 thoughts on “Hand to Mouth: The truth about being poor in a wealthy world by Linda Tirado

  1. Hey, you seem to have come round to the idea that I may have been right to start yelling during that presentation. Just a shame that the mic was turned off.

  2. Sounds like this was quite the self-help seminar. After attending a few such presentations back in the day (in the job rather than the PhD context) I came to the conclusion they were largely BS and, as you point out, often quite condescending and almost always irrelevant (admit it, though — if you’re detached enough, they can be amusing).
    Although I’ve long admired Barbara Ehrenreich, I wasn’t familar with Linda Tirado or her work so I did a little quick research. I actually think her lawsuit has a reasonably good chance of success, given the evidence that the Minneapolis police were intentionally targeting journalists (at the very least, the city itself might settle. The police union itself sounds hopeless).
    I can’t really comment on Tirado’s book, since I haven’t read it, but as it’s presented in your review it appears to raise interesting questions regarding the price paid by many members of society for the privileges experienced by others as well as the extent to which this imbalance is inherent in the structure of U.S. capitalism (I’d argue that class inequities extend to any capitalist country, at least to some degree, but the book does appear to be confined to the U.S.) These issues seem increasingly urgent given the shredded safety net, increased awareness of racial tensions and diminished social mobility of U.S. society. I suppose my only exception to your review would be your characterization of the U.S. as a “fucked up shittery of a place;” while the phrase may (or may not) accurately describe the U.S.’s current situation I think it detracts from your review.

    • Janakay, such a thoughtful, polite response deserved a positive reaction. I have edited the post – maybe not enough to be acceptable to you, but I will sleep on how it is now, anyway.

      My background was really poor and I’ve worked my way up to expect the rest of my life to be genteel poverty without dental. I know a lot of very wealthy Libertarian and Objectivist Americans. It makes me unspeakably enraged to listen to them discuss why poor people shouldn’t get a minimum wage, that kind of thing. I hear this a lot, about how it’s all the poor’s fault where they are – which makes sense because that way those pontificating don’t have to admit that it is anything other than their own enterprise which makes them what they are. So I find it really hard not to see the US as described.

      • Hi Cathy: I appreciate your reply very much and I think your post is fine. It’s hard not to be discouraged these days about the U.S. (I have pretty dark moments myself when my sentiment isn’t terribly different from yours) but I think it’s worth pointing out that a great many of us in the U.S. are as horrified as you by the Libertarian and Objectivist views you mention. I suppose I’m more inclined to see these unfair and inhumane attitudes as symptomatic of western capitalism in general and not confined to the U.S., but I certainly understand how others could disagree with me here.
        I suspect my own background is pretty similar to yours (if you’re interested I discussed it briefly in one of my old posts; just scroll down past the first few paragraphs. https://youmightaswellread.com/tag/toni-morrison/ ). I understand how frustrating it can be to listen to opinions blaming the poor for their predicament, since I spent a good part of my post graduate education surrounded by wealthy people who basically thought that students like me, who were dependent on government loans or other assistance, had no right to seek a professional education.
        I hope I haven’t sounded condescening or preachy. I respect your opinion and only hope your future path intersects with some Americans (of the U.S. variety) who aren’t right wing nuts or followers of the detestable Ayn Rand. There really are quite a few of us out there.
        Best of luck with the PhD program and keep up the blog — I find your posts very stimulating (I now have Linda Tirado on my list).

  3. In Balzac’s Le Médecin de campagne, M. Benassis, who spends about 80% of the novel talking about his views on life, explains that “the poor need to accept that they have less than the rich, and the rich need to help the poor, and this in a few words is the essence of Christianity”. I don’t think it’s meant ironically. Kind of interesting to compare with the US version of Christian morality.

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