The auto-rickshaw driver honks his way through the dusty chaos of Anand, Gujarat, India, swerving around motorbikes, grunting trucks, and ancient large-wheeled bullock-carts packed with bags of fodder. Both sides of the street are lined with plastic trash and small piles of garbage on which untethered cows feed. The driver turns off the pavement onto a narrow, pitted dirt road, slows to circumvent a pair of black and white spotted goats, and stops outside a dusty courtyard. To one side stands a modest white building with a sign that reads, in English and Gujarati, "Akanksha Clinic."
Let's consider our political moment through a story. Suppose a chauffeur drives a sleek limousine through the streets of New York, a millionaire in the backseat. Through the window, the millionaire spots a homeless woman and her two children huddling in the cold, sharing a loaf of bread. He orders the chauffeur to stop the car. The chauffeur opens the passenger door for the millionaire, who walks over to the mother and snatches the loaf. He slips back into the car, and they drive on, leaving behind an even poorer family and a baffled crowd of sidewalk witnesses. For his part, the chauffeur feels real qualms about what his master has done, because unlike his employer, he has recently known hard times himself. But he drives on nonetheless. Let's call this the Chauffeur's Dilemma.
In her new book Power Politics, the novelist Arundhati
Roy observes the way that the government of India with one hand causes distress
and with the other directs people's anger about it elsewhere. Do harm; then
scapegoat. She calls it a "pincer action."
Vicky Diaz, a 34-year-old mother of five, was a college-educated schoolteacher and travel agent in the Philippines before migrating to the United States to work as a housekeeper for a wealthy Beverly Hills family and as a nanny for their two-year-old son. Her children, Vicky explained to Rhacel Parrenas,
were saddened by my departure. Even until now my children are trying to convince me to go home. The children were not angry when I left because they were still very young when I left them. My husband could not get angry either because he knew that was the only way I could seriously help him raise our children, so that our children could be sent to school. I send them money every month.
In Silicon Valley, where peach orchards have disappeared and electronics factories have sprouted in their stead, where low-paying jobs have replaced high-paying jobs, where neighbors are new and the singles clubs are full, we meet, in Judith Stacey's recent book, Brave New Families, a woman named Pam Gama. We meet her first as the young bride of a striving drafter and ten years later as a struggling single mother of three (ages eleven, nine, and six) working odd jobs and taking classes on the side. We next meet her one precarious remarriage later, and finally as a post-feminist, reborn Christian at the alter of the Global Ministry's Church where she exchanges vows, again, of lasting love.