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Dodson reveals The Moral Underground

<onvocation speaker on Friday Feb. 19  was Dr. Lisa Dodson, research professor in Boston College Department of Sociology. Her latest book, The Moral Underground, covers the moral conflicts that result from social unfairness; in particular, her research deals with the conditions of a deeply stratified social economy.

Her book tells the stories of ordinary Americans reacting to the current economic situation, which Dr. Dodson emphasized is not the same as what politicians and broadcasts portray as part of the mainstream media. She remarked that her book has been critiqued as condoning theft and cheating, promoting fraud, and, as a result, and has been dubbed “a dangerous book.”

Dr. Dodson articulated that one of the main principles of The Moral Underground is “economic disobedience,” characterized as the reactions of American citizens – particularly the working classes – to government-instigated economic policies seen as unfair. She likened it to civil disobedience, which similarly is the reactions of citizens to laws or policies that are regarded in unfair light. In covering this concept, The Moral Underground exhibits reactions of certain Americans of the working class to the increasingly economically stratified society.

Dr. Dodson emphasized that in the past, the American public has been frequently fed the enthusiastic news of the nation’s rapid growth and that the massive consumer market was a major reason for this economic proliferation. It therefore aimed to continue consuming in order to fuel this positive growth, which resulted in other shifts becoming neglected.

One of such shifts, she said, was “the staggering increase of child poverty – 21 percent – and that a quarter of the children in the country were receiving food stamps, which to qualify for the family must make below $28,000 annually, including all equities and shares.”
Dr. Dodson highlighted this shocking economic disparity with more statistics, saying that today the “median income is $50,000. But that’s the cost of one academic year of undergraduate education from where I teach.”

She reinforced this by revealing the country’s grossly distorted distribution of wealth – that “one percent of the population holds ninety percent of the country’s wealth.”

The Moral Underground expressed the human stories – the majority of which stemmed from working class families – that were the result of this disparity. One of the stories revealed was the vast number of families that could not afford childcare, and the reasons of sharing it were that “it is strikingly ordinary, not an extreme tragedy,” which reinforces its urgency.

Dr. Dodson discussed how her narrators cobbled together their childcare arrangements – in which children were left in the care of teachers, neighbors and their diabetic grandmother. But if the wrong keys were mixed up, or someone in charge of the kids was sick, then unthinkable disaster could occur.

She also interviewed employers on their perspective of the disparity, asking them if they thought that “as a grocery store manager, allowing a worker to take home some food free of charge to their hungry kids who don’t have enough in the fridge to last the week” was wrong.
She described how interviewed school teachers sometimes didn’t know what their job entailed anymore when they dealt with hungry, sleep-deprived children who didn’t complete their homework. They told her that “the knee-jerk response is to criticize parents; that the mother and father are at fault.”

Additional stories followed of nurses giving construction workers treatment despite their expired or insufficient medical insurance, or truck drivers giving their gas vouchers to the poor elderly because they knew they could get more from their company.

Dr. Dodson talked about how employers sometimes did not want to know too much, otherwise they would be more inclined to step over the line and “break the rules of the business sector” to extend their help to employees. But she asserted that at times it is necessary to traverse this line for economic justice; that in light of the overwhelmingly stratified economy, the multiple instances of economic disobedience in America are signs that major reform is needed more crucially than ever.

Dr. Dodson concluded that the people The Moral Underground represented “should be included in national reform,” because they have seen and still continue to bear the brunt of the economic crisis.

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