Shklar and the “do nothings”

While talking about Shklar and how she would describe someone as being a citizen, I don’t think she thought about all the ways that someone could be a citizen but not have the actual title of ‘citizen’. The one example that sticks out to me is homeless people. Homeless people have one of the two things that Shklar attributes to citizenship- voting. I don’t think you can count earning as people giving you money while they pass by you. So the question would be, are homeless people considered citizens even though they are not being active participants in society and earning a wage?

Shklar says, “Voting is an affirmation of belonging.” Even though many homeless people don’t vote they still have the right to vote, which according to Shklar means that you belong. It doesn’t matter if you vote or not, that is not what citizenship is about. Just having the right to vote and not exercising it, makes you a citizen. 

The argument of earning and being a citizen is where she contradicts herself. Her conclusion of American citizenship entails a “comprehensive commitment to providing opportunities for work to earn a living wage for all who need and demand it.” Homeless individuals are another prime example of people who need work to earn a living wage but are unable because injury, discrimination, illness, or a bad economy. The division among men in society isn’t between the rich and the poor; it is between the “do somethings” and the “do nothings.” People who are homeless are looked down upon because they sit on the street and beg people for money, they are the “do nothings”. People who have an office job and input numbers in a computer all day are seen as active participants in society, they are the “do somethings”. Shklar points out that the “do somethings” are individuals who are independent from others, although, the earners (“do somethings”) are dependent on their employer for their wage. Even with this contradiction she has made it clear that independence has replaced honor as the objects of social aspiration.

So because homeless people are dependent on the generosity of others to give them money or to give them shelter for a night, Shklar would say that in this aspect homeless people are not citizens. She talks about how the very word of slavery struck fear into the hearts of workers. Most people don’t want to be homeless, so when being homeless becomes a threat people start to work much harder for what they have because they know being out on the streets comes with disgrace. 

If Judith Shklar was here in the present, I believe, that she would not consider homeless people to be citizens. She clearly states that citizenship is obtained by independent individuals who sell their labor, not themselves, to earn a wage that allows them to spend and save and give as they choose. And when people cease to earn they lose their standing in their community. Homelessness, because of all the ins and outs of it, was the best way to bring Judith Shklar’s citizenship perspective to current social standing issues. 

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10 Responses to Shklar and the “do nothings”

  1. elason13 says:

    Just curious: Because I’m not in your class and know nothing about Shklar, what do you believe she would say about non-income earning stay-at-home moms/dads, or people who depend on welfare to get by?

    • ryrooney says:

      I think stay- at- home mom and dads would be considered citizens in her eyes. Although they are not earning an income they still have the right to vote. But unlike homeless people stay-at-home mom and dads are participating in society and are active. Stay-at-home parents are usually running their kids somewhere or doing a house or community chore, I believe. So even though they are not earning a wage maybe they are earning something morally? Maybe she would consider them citizens because they are being active in life and she could say they are earning moral satisfaction because stay-at-home mom & dad’s are helping their children grow.

      • I see where you are going with it, but i would disagree. It seems like you are really reaching to fill the gap. I would say in Shklar’s eyes they would not be full citizens as earning a wage is a big deal to her. So is independence, if you make no money of your own being single would not be possible, you are always dependent upon the other person to float both of you.

  2. newbieblogster13 says:

    I totally agree with what you are saying about Shklar and the homeless and the one thing that still kind of boggles my mind is the fact of earning. I understand that earning means having a job and working for it but I see it as no different than beggars on the street almost. Yes, the work is done to help a higher good but the earning part seems the same to me. Both parties, working and the homeless, depends on someone give them money. If beggars beg in the right places and to the right people, they get money. If workers work for the right people and hard enough, they get money. Workers and homeless both depend on another party to give them money and, though the work is different, it is still work. I almost compare the work between the homeless with telemarketers. They are both unappreciated, ignored, and sometimes they are both verbally abused. Also, I can see the homeless begging to be the same as people who work on commission. Of course, the money amount and setting is different, but both sides have to talk to the right people to earn money. According to the dependent factor, I only see those of the 1% to be “true citizens” then because many of them have no one higher in power than them. They are still dependent on the people who either consume their products, use their skills, or utilize their services but that seems like a different kind of dependent.

    • rubit91 says:

      I agree with you. I believe you stated all the points I was thinking while reading the article. In one way or another we are dependent of someone or something.

      I am not part of this class, so I am not familiar with Shklar. By reading this post it shows as if Shklar contradicts a lot. However, everyone has their own opinion on what consists and what a citizen does in order to be considered a true and active citizen.

    • Homeless are very different. The labor that they do gives nothing back to anyone. They leech of of other people’s generosity. Sometimes with good reason sometimes not. But even a telemarketer is doing something. They are bringing a product to you, on your phone. Commissioned sales are giving you access to a specific product. Same with Car dealerships, you want a car and they want to sell you a car. A true citizen contributes in some way, no matter how small.

      Also the 1% are still in need of us. They need us to buy the things they come up with and produce otherwise they would not be where they are. If you follow that thought to it’s logical conclusion nobody is completely free because we depend on someone or something for one service or another. So the only true citizens could be hunters and gatherers. This is clearly not what Shklar meant.

      Simply put no man is an island unto himself. We all work in our small little slots and as a result everyone benefits.

    • ryrooney says:

      When Shklar uses earning as standing she means that people who are actually going out and being active in society to earn. Yes, both the working and homeless are dependent on others for their wage, but workers are just that, “working”. I don’t think she cares that workers are dependent on others for their wage, she only sees that they are out being productive in society. I guess you could say they are “earning their keep”. Homeless are literally begging on the streets. I don’t think Shklar could classify begging as work.

      I do see where you are coming from though. But it almost comes down to the fact that workers are out earning a wage, being active/ productive so they can afford food, shelter, and go out with their friends. Homeless people probably don’t care that some don’t view them as citizens, they have other things to worry about.

  3. aussielandmn says:

    I agree with you that Shklar does leave a lot of questions unanswered in her text. For example, as her argument that in order to be accepted as a citizen within society they must be independently earn which is a rather vague statement. It also seems strangely Classical/Roman in origin. The concept of citizenship is ultimately a tricky concept that is not so black and white but with a lot of shades of grey. I would ultimately argue that currently, you are only accepted as a citizen within a society if you are viewed to be of any political or financial worth. This seems unfair to me as it leaves a lot of people outside the protection of citizenship.

  4. rubit91 says:

    As I was re-reading your post, I realized that you mentioned that the writer states that homeless do not vote. If I am wrong, please let me know. Where is this information gathered from? I worked with homeless in skid row in Downtown Los Angeles and I know a few that actually voted last elected.

    • ryrooney says:

      She wrote this book back in 1991, but I meant it as more of a general statement. I volunteer at ICM and have talked to many underprivileged families who barely make it week to week who voted in the last election. I think homeless people see themselves as having a voice, but people who aren’t homeless don’t see them having any say. Which is where she comes in with the “standing” argument and the exclusion argument.

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