The Insecure American: How We Got Here and What We Should Do about It

The Insecure American: How We Got Here and What We Should Do about It

The Insecure American: How We Got Here and What We Should Do about It

The Insecure American: How We Got Here and What We Should Do about It

Synopsis

Americans are feeling insecure. They are retreating to gated communities in record numbers, fearing for their jobs and their 401(k)s, nervous about their health insurance and their debt levels, worrying about terrorist attacks and immigrants. In this innovative volume, editors Hugh Gusterson and Catherine Besteman gather essays from nineteen leading ethnographers to create a unique portrait of an anxious country and to furnish valuable insights into the nation's possible future. With an incisive foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich, the contributors draw on their deep knowledge of different facets of American life to map the impact of the new economy, the "war on terror," the "war on drugs," racial resentments, a fraying safety net, undocumented immigration, a health care system in crisis, and much more. In laying out a range of views on the forces that unsettle us, "The Insecure American" demonstrates the singular power of an anthropological perspective for grasping the impact of corporate profit on democratic life, charting the links between policy and vulnerability, and envisioning alternatives to life as an insecure American.

Excerpt

Fifty or sixty years ago, the word insecurity most commonly referred to a psychological condition. Some people suffered from “insecurities”; otherwise, though, Americans were self-confident to the point of cockiness. Public intellectuals worried over the “problem” of affluence, which was believed to be making us too soft and contented. They held forums to consider the growing challenge of leisure, never imagining that their own children and grandchildren would become accustomed to ten-hour workdays. Yes, there remained a few “social problems” for sociologists to study—poverty, which was “discovered” by the nonpoor in the early sixties, and racial inequality—but it was believed that these would yield easily to enlightened policies. We were so self-confident that Earth itself no longer seemed to offer sufficient outlets for our energy and ambition. We embarked on the exploration of space.

It was at some point in the late 1960s or early 1970s that Americans began their decline from intrepid to insecure. the year 1969 brought the revelation of the massacre at My Lai and the certainty that the Vietnam War would end in disgrace as well as defeat. At the same time, the war was draining federal funds from Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs, vitiating health services and hundreds of community development projects. Then 1970 saw the first national observance of Earth Day and the dawning awareness that our environmental problems went beyond scattered cases of “pollution.” For the first time since Malthus, the possibility was raised that we might someday exhaust the resources required to maintain America’s profligate consumer culture.

American business, beginning with the auto industry, woke up, in the 1970s, to the threat of international competition and initiated its long campaign to reduce both wages and the number of American workers. By the 1980s, big business . . .

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