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Shared Reading, Relative Deprivation


After Francine Orr's Los Angeles Times photo.

"When the Push for Survival Is a Full-Time Job"

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: July 16, 2004
Latest Update: July 16, 2004

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Index of Topics on Site It's All Relative in My Metanarrative

  1. Introduction Why I chose to share this reading.
  2. Focus: Main point of this reading.
  3. Reading Full identification of source for reading AND excerpt.
  4. Concepts: Concepts and Key Words.
  5. Discussion Discussion questions.
  6. Conceptual Linking to Substantive Courses What this has to do with our class.

* * *


  • One of the issues at the crux of the debate between modernism and postmodernism is whether there is really anything such as reality or any overriding metanarrative that fits the whole picture of life in this world. It's a silly question. I'll cite Ruether again: everything is interrelated. Or I'll cite Henry and Milovanovic on constructive theory: everything is interdependent. Or I'll cite Hal Foster reading the past means deconstructing and reconstructing the past as it merges with the present in the construction of the future. Sorry, folks, their ain't no TRUTH out there that's within our present intellectual grasp. We can believe. But belief is a matter of faith, not of "knowledge, that can be somehow universal enough that others can come up with the same results." And there is allways the possibility that we will discover more, and learn how wrong we are as in the story below of the forgotten casualties.


  • I hope you will come away from this shared reading with the sense of how arrogant and punitive "certainty" is. It is so easy to believe that we have considered all possibilities, but we are not omniscient and omnipresent. Leave that to God. We'll be just fine if we live up to being human.

Concepts and Key Words:

  • chukudu - handmade wooden scooter used to transport heavy loads - see pictures
  • relative deprivation - deprived compared to a specific group of others; for example, you may be deprived with respect to families with two incomes, but not pretty well off compared to families with no steady income. Les McCann used to sing a song: Compared to What? That says it all.
  • metanarrative - a theory, myth, story that would be valid for all of us, for all sciences, for all literature, all whatever.
  • Tsedekheit - in Hebrew, goodness and righteousness


    It's All Relative in My Metanarrative

    Workers transporting heavy sacks on wooden chokodu.

    In Its Different Guises
    Photo by Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times
    From the Front Page of the Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2004

    July 11, 2004

    Poverty is relative, for poverty is relative deprivation. That means "compared to what?" (Jazz musician, Les McCann) Perhaps this is one way to remember the 20th century debate of postmodernists against metanarrative. No story, no perspective tells it all. I was profoundly touched by the photograph of this rough hewn chukudu, a hand made wooden scooter for shoving heavy loads back and forth. This is how some in Goma earn a few cents a day for survival.

    " It is never enough. In Goma, near the heart of Africa, an average family of seven spends about $63 a month, two-thirds of it on food. With every dollar, they make a choice among competing needs — food, rent, clothes, school and medicine."

    We are no longer complaining of a lack of safety nets just in this country. The photograph of the chukudu was on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. I' m either concerned or living in a fairlyland where all is good in the best of all possible worlds, or unconscious. Refusing to listen and see in good faith, in a world that brings the information right to my doorstep makes me complicit. OK, so I'm not starving these people. But I am living on the benefits of the resources stolen by people like me, countenanced by my government, and now many starve for we see fit not to compensate them in our limited view of social justice.

    Charities are not the answer, although Tzedekheit is good, for this is not an issue of throwing money after exploitation. The exploitation has done major harm; an infrastructure in which these people can survive cannot be built by the random goodness of people who care. It must be built with forethought (Vörsorge) or fore-worry, with a knowledgeable view to the long-term consequences to the people we have harmed and the earth they and we live on.

    An Extraordinary Example of Heroics:

    Honoring the Forgotten Casualties By Gillian Tindall. New York Times. Published: July 11, 2004. Backup

    Anne Watkins

    When we think of heroics we think of Superman, or Spiderman or maybe Wonder Woman, if we're current and aware.WE think of selfless lack of concern for self and an intense commitment to the welfare of others. Folks, that's hocky pooh. Heroes are as mortal as we are, even if it takes a little kryptonite to get them. No one wants to die, or risk life and limb. But some of us are able to put aside our fright and self concern for the good of the whole community.These we call heroes. But our imaginary takes over and we see them as Spiderman or WonderWoman, the same as we once saw women as Super Moms.

    Heroism hurts. It takes guts and it takes emotional and moral energy to place another before ourselves. And when it's over there's hell to pay. Sometimes even to the point of the death of the hero. Honoring the Forgotten Casualites tells poignantly of the costs of letting our imaginary run wild, and then labelling people as lacking in courage and heroism when they fall short of our imaginary. It honors the nation-state that is brave enough to go back and take onto itself such complicity in the evils of war. It took England half a century to get there. May we all follow in appropriate humility.

    . . .

    "This is all very nice, you may say, and a carefully managed forest with memorial plaques will be a lovely thing if you're in the area, but what makes it worth a trip now? Shouldn't the avenues and copses of beech, horse chestnut, larch, lime and willow, the wildflower meadow and the water-bird lake be given a few years to mature?

    "The answer is that it already contains one monument that is unique and is perhaps a peculiarly British piece of fairness and respect-given-where-due.

    "It is the Shot at Dawn Memorial, unveiled in June 2001. It does not commemorate heroes, or those such as prisoners of war and unlucky civilians on whom a terrible heroism was sometimes thrust. It was erected in memory, and as long overdue amends, to the 300-odd British soldiers of World War I who were judged by their fellows to have failed in their duty and, by the summary justice of those terrible killing fields, were executed for desertion in the face of the enemy.

    "The fate of these men became a secret in the decades that followed, first kept by their shamed families and then, as law and social opinions changed, by the military authorities themselves. Had they really hustled to a dawn meeting with death these men who were already psychological casualties of constant bombardment, groggy with memory loss, shaking with what was even then recognized as shell shock, what we would call acute traumatic stress? It was not until the beginning of the 1980's that a judge was given privileged access to the men's files to write an account and not until 1992 that they were opened to the public.

    "Some excerpts are now available at the visitors' center, and they make poignant reading. Many of the men were boys still in their teens, and it is clear that some of them had joined up by giving a false age and should not have been at the front at all. Some were not very bright and had little understanding of where wandering off the battlefield might lead them. Some had deserted in an attempt to sort out troubles at home, some had recently had news of the death of brothers in other parts of the line. The majority were not conscripts but had volunteered at the beginning of the war. Described as "good soldiers," many had already been wounded and then had returned to the front."

    From Honoring the Forgotten Casualties By Gillian Tindall.New York Times. Published: July 11, 2004. Backup

    Additional Resources:

    • 'No pardon for deserters.' BBC News..
    • Deserters - or fallen heroes? BBC News.
    • Soldier shot to improve discipline PARLIAMENT this month passed a law granting pardons to five New Zealand soldiers who were executed during World War I. Among them was John Sweeney, of Pirinoa. In this three-part series originally published in the Wairarapa Times-Age in 1988, Ross Annabell investigates Private Sweeney’s ill-fated army career.

        Military Executions First World War:

      • French: 600
      • Italy 500?
      • British: 346 [Includes Commonwealth troops]
      • German: 48
      • Canada: 25
      • Belgium 13
      • United States: 10 [For non-military offences - e.g. murder and rape]
      • New Zealand: 5
      • Australia: Nil
      • Russia: Nil

      I don't have time to hunt for verification right now, but these figures do seem in line with others I am seeing reported on the Web. If you wish to use the figures, you must verify them. jeanne

    • Links relating to punishments and executions for Desertion and related offenses in World War One (WWI) and World War Two (WWI) including Consciencious Objectors / Consciencious Objection Australia.

      Discussion Questions:

      1. How?

        Things to be considered in answer.

      2. Why?

        Things to be considered in answer.

      3. Do you think?

      Conceptual Linking to Substantive Courses:

      • Agencies:
        Sample linking: Ways in which underlying assumptions of assimilation affect services offered and clients' ability to access and use those services. How does this reading illustrate the need for social agencies, for more generalized agencies, for what Bolman and Deal would call "leadership" AND "management"? How does this reading suggest ways in which we could be more effective in rendering help, and what is the reading's relationship to a "safety net" for those who need help?

      • Criminal Justice:
        Sample linking: Ways in which some groups are underrepresented in the unstated assumptions of our theories. How does this reading serve to illustrate adversarialism, mutuality, retribution, revenge, illocutionary understanding, the definition and operation of the criminal justice system?

      • Law:
        Sample linking: Extent to which laws are made on the assumption that we are all essentially assimilated to the dominant culture. How does this reading help us see the need for contextual readings in law? How does it relate to our natural instincts to seek some kind of natural law? What facts and principles does the reading offer for discourse that could clarify for Others validity claims presented by an Obscure Other?

      • Moot Court:
        Sample linking: Ways in which to make validty claims of harm understood by those who have never experienced many of the world's different perspectives. How can this reading enlighten our praxis in terms of different kinds of discourse, like instrumental, illocutionary, governance?

      • Women in Poverty:
        Sample linking: The culture of poverty and assimilation. How does the reading deal with our underlying assumptions about poverty, especially poverty of the exploited, the NOT- male? What does the reading suggest of the interrelationship between our society and its children, generally cared for by women, often poor?

      • Race, Gender, Class:
        Sample linking: The extent to which silence has been imposed by these affiliations so that domination and discrimination have entered our unstated assumptions in interpersonal relations and the structural context arising from them. What does the reading tell us about exploitation and alternative ways to deal with one another? What does it tell us about institutionalized -isms and our denial of complicity? What does it tell us about our common humanity?

      • Religion:
        Sample linking: The spiritual component. Humans are spiritual creatures, creatures that recognize moments that go beyond ourselves to God, Allah, Isis, Gaia, the Universe, or a deep sense of responsibility to create our own meanng. How does the reading fit into our ability, our need to create such meaning in life?

      • Love !A:
        Sample linking: What's the aesthetic link in this reading? How does it bring us closer to one another as humans? What does it tell us about our need for love, unconditional love, not rewards for doing well or being well, but caring and acceptance for being who we are?

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, June 2004.
"Fair use" encouraged.