Dennis Held on America.

Dennis Held, 46, Spokane English professor
Held says he “was fourth of eight kids of Ruben and Mary Held of Menomonee Falls, Wis. My dad drove a truck, and my mom worked at home from 5 in the morning until it was over. The idea that you worked hard so that you might be able to pass on a better deal for your kids is sort of a foundation of American democracy, and that was just the way it went around us as I was growing up.”
My mom was very much involved in making sure that we had a place in the moral world. I remember during the civil rights riots, especially 1967, sitting on the couch with my mom watching television and having her point out that when the policemen were turning fire hoses on the demonstrators and turning dogs on black people that, “That is wrong. What the policemen are doing is wrong.” That’s a pretty complicated moral equation to throw at a 9-year-old, you know? But I think it helped me form a view of the world that was a little bit larger than it might otherwise have been.
My dad worked six days a week. He was supposed to have a job until he retired. That was the way it was. He was surrounded by 60- to 80-year-old guys who came to work every day for because they were guaranteed employment. Even when they were no longer that useful they were kept on the payroll and were given something to do.
I don’t see that America around anymore, that middle-class America of working people who have jobs that they can count on, employers who’ll have long-term commitments to their employees – and back. My dad was thrown out in the early ’80s in the kind of dissolving that has gone out throughout the country in all the major industries, especially what we used to call the Rust Belt. It’s very rare now that there’s a connection between employer and employee goes beyond the immediate dollar, and that has serious consequences for us as a society.
I think the issue of finding meaningful work in changing times is probably the most important issue in America today. I look at the number of people here in Spokane who don’t have work, and I know what it feels like to be out of work, to have no sense of yourself as a worker, especially in America, where who you are is what you do. When you introduce yourself to a stranger at a party, do you say, “Hi, I’m Dennis, I like the paintings of Kandinsky”? No, you say, “I’m an editor. I work at schmoe’s.”
Since the beginning of time, what makes us human beings is the need to make, to create, to modify our environments, to hopefully make things easier for ourselves. We used to do that inside communities. Some of those were family communities, some of them were work communities. We know that the family community is dissolving, and we know some of the effects that has had on individuals. I don’t think we think much about the work community’s dissolving and people not having that sense of a place to go.
Community is efficient. We forget that. The reason why we have one guy who knows how to do the brakes on cars is that way we don’t all have to learn that, you know? And the further flung we get in our relationships, and the more tenuous we get in our relationships, the more apt our society is to fall apart.
I think we’re in late empire. Look at it historically: We’re not the first people who have been in this position. We have power that come from resources that we’ve squandered, and the bill is about to come due. We are entertaining ourselves to death, that’s what Neal Postman says. It’s so obvious. There’s so much sleight of hand going on that the facts of our lives are being torn away from us.

Join the Conversation

No comments

  1. I must be in knee deep denial. I feel connected to my work and my family…more so than I did before the prevalence of this here Interweb-thingy. I get hourly updates from both. The exchange is horizontal not vertical like it used to be. Maybe what he’s seeing is just us laying down on the job.
    The full-time job I work is satisfying and I feel very connected to my co-workers. The family that puts their lot in with me is as well. We often use the televised drama of America as an intermediary to discuss divisive work and family issues…a bit like how Hamlet used the players to talk to his Stepfather/Uncle about the murder of his father/king. As tightly bound as we are and as dependent on each other as we are~ we NEED the fluff to openly converse about underlying issues.
    We are not “entertaining ourselves to death”. We are coping with single greatest technological advances falling in on us every other year. Innovation used to be buffered by the government so that it didn’t act so much like a golden apple thrown in the room. With it coming so regularly now, the government has thrown up it’s hands gesticulating through shadow agents how much control it has over these rapid changes.
    I believe in America and I feel that the rapid pace changes will be adapted to and when all is said and done~ the active assault on the dream by the forces of innovation (always changing the goal posts) will be survived. America will be changed, definitions will be adjusted, but the results as they emerge will contain an empire of people directly attributed to our time.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *