Monday, February 28, 2005

Critique and Complaint

There is a difference between critique and complaint. When the Israelites following Moses could not be placated by the parting of the sea that liberated them from the Egyptians, the pillar of cloud and fire that guided them in the Sinai desert, the bread from heaven that fed them in the wilderness, they still "complained against Moses and said, 'Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?'" Bringing water from a rock, however, does not quench the thirst to complain. When complaint serves nothing but the will to complain, it becomes a debilitating malaise which spreads like the most infectious disease. I recently heard a proclamation which decried the power of such parasitic discourse to plague the tissue of our social and moral lives.

Still, there is a fine line between a critique of complaining and merely complaining about complaining. Furthermore, any critique of complaining implicitly legitimizes the value of criticism, and the spirit of critique arises out of the prophetic tradition which targets the systemic distortions of justice and truth in society in order to promote reform. This form of criticism is vital for a society to regulate its moral health. This is a distinction which must always be kept in mind when addressing the "malaise" of complaining in order that the message not become a justification for an unjust and dishonest status quo.

So what is today's specific critique? We find it in Peter G. Gosselin's three-part series in the LA Times about the phenomenon of increasing risk in contemporary life. For some background, see here and here. This is the introduction to the series which examines the "American paradox":
Why so many families report being financially less secure even as the nation has grown more prosperous. The answer lies in a quarter-century-long shift of economic risks from the broad shoulders of business and government to the backs of working families. Safety nets that once protected Americans from economic turbulence — safeguards like unemployment compensation and employer loyalty — have eroded or vanished. Families are more vulnerable to sudden shifts in the economy than any time since the Great Depression. The result is a daunting "New Deal" for many working Americans — one that compels them to cope, largely on their own, with financial forces far beyond their control.


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