Hogan's Attacks on the Indicator Are Bold and Wrong
By Justin Patrick '12
Ashley Hogan’s recent article, “Indicator Demonstrates Institutional Classism,” achieves the distinction, unusual in the generally sober and intelligent pages of Amherst’s student publications, of combining a total absence of actual reasoned argumentation with a wealth of ugly smears and misplaced self-righteousness. Nowhere does Ms. Hogan construct any argument that advances beyond a declaration of offense taken or the wild brandishing of an uncited and unsourced statistic. At no point does she engage with my article’s substantive argument, preferring instead to stand aside and sling mud. That she targets this hackery at the Indicator as a whole elevates her piece from common hatchet-job to masterpiece of guilt-by-association gutter journalism. The opinions and arguments presented in my article are mine alone and do not represent the views of the Indicator’s editorial staff. To attack me is one thing; to attack the magazine and its staff is another entirely and is deeply reprehensible.

The first problem that Ms. Hogan identifies in my piece — and the primary indicator of its supposedly classist outlook — is the fact that I argue that we should analyze income inequality in terms of its impact on the consumption of goods and services. According to Ms. Hogan, this perspective “discounts far more serious injustices,” like the fact that “15 percent of American homes are food insecure and 46 million Americans are uninsured.” Two issues emerge. The first is that Ms. Hogan does not in fact disagree with the frame through which I analyzed inequality! Insurance and food are consumables! They are precisely the sorts of “life-improving goods and services” that I discussed in my article. As far as I can tell, the actual content of her objection here is that the examples I chose to discuss — “superficial” goods like central heating and fresh produce — are insufficiently gloomy. So, to put it on the record: health-care reform was a good idea, federally subsidized college loans were a good idea, and Amherst’s own firm commitment to need-blind, need-met financial aid is laudable. The important thing here is that none of these positions are inconsistent with the argument presented in my article.

The second issue is that Ms. Hogan fails to answer (or even acknowledge, actually) the central point of my article: that we should decouple our thinking about poverty from our thinking about inequality, because the two phenomena do not share a common cause. The reasons for this are explained at some length in the article, and I shall not retread them here, but this failure on Ms. Hogan’s part speaks volumes to the shouting/thinking ratio at play in her piece.

Ms. Hogan then turns her attention to another problem: that “objectively” speaking, this is a case of the Indicator “over-reaching its journalistic abilities in the realm of national and international issues” since the article “quotes no numerical support for its claims and never refers to professional texts or expert viewpoints on the matter.” Aside from the fact that Ms. Hogan very clearly misapprehends the meaning of the word ‘objective,’ several observations are in order. The first is that it is a bit unbelievable that she makes this complaint in the text of an article whose three pieces of ostensible numerical data come with positively no citations or references to any source external to the author’s own brain. Rules for thee, but not for me! The second is that there aren’t really any claims in my article of the highly specific sort that require numerical citation, and arguments from authority (the “professional texts and expert viewpoints” Ms. Hogan yearns for) are of little relevance to what is essentially an argument about moral philosophy. Additionally: come on! We’re talking here about a short-form op-ed for a casual audience, not an econ paper. This isn’t the place for technical, quant-based analysis. The third observation on the subject of sloppy argument and bad writing is simply to remind Ms. Hogan of the old saw about glass houses and tossed rocks.

Finally, Ms. Hogan opines that my tone in the original article was “insensitive and brazenly tactless.” Specifically, my disclaimer that I wasn’t arguing that it doesn’t “suck to be poor” or that rich people didn’t “have a good time of it” (my article) is, in Ms. Hogan’s opinion, “demeaning and elitist, as it implies the [sic] absence of dignity in being a member of the lower class, while also touting the leisurely advantages of the upper class.” To which: what? One simply cannot catch a break in these parts. Suffice to say that it is literally impossible to square Ms. Hogan’s insistence on the crushing hardship of poverty with her (absolutely unsupported) assertion that characterization of poverty as an undesirable condition is demeaning.

Ms. Hogan ends on a grand note, accusing the College itself of classism, elitism and discrimination — once more without any actual explanation or argument — which is a claim that I hope someone other than I might take up. To accuse a person or organization of classism is no different than to accuse them of racism or sexism, and to do so falsely is a profound moral wrong. Not only does it unfairly sully the reputation of the accused, it diminishes the credibility of future, legitimate claims of discriminatory attitudes or behavior. To make such an accusation in a public forum, based on a flimsy, selective and uncharitable reading of a carefully written essay and without any attempt to ascertain the author’s actual thoughts or perspective is cowardly and vicious. Ms. Hogan owes me, the Indicator and the Amherst community an apology.

Issue 19, Submitted 2011-03-23 01:18:46