Dr. Bertram Carnow, and Joan and Bob Ericksen discuss health hazards in work environments
BROADCAST: Jun. 5, 1974 | DURATION: 00:55:24
Discussing health hazards in work environments and environmental pollution. Interviewing Dr. Bertram Carnow and Bob and Joan Ericksen.
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Studs Terkel Today is a reversal of the usual program. I will be among those interviewed. I and Dr. Bertram Carnow will be interviewed, as well as participate in discussion with the two moderators of this particular panel, Joan and Bob Ericksen, who are--how can they be described? I suppose, in the manner of Lewis Mumford as generalists. They are painters, they are writers, they are interested primarily in ecology. But they're young and they travel, and Joan and Bob, you take it from there and astonish Dr. Carnow and myself. Bob.
Bob Ericksen We're, I guess for about a year, two years, three years, we've been dealing with a lot of people in educational institutions, families, Indian people on reservations in Montana, and we've talked and been talking a great deal about what it feels like to do what you're doing, what it feels like to be a young person and trying--try to decide on what your life's going to become. How are you going to put your time in. How you're going to make your living, scratch out your little harvest. And we came to Studs and Dr. Carnow to try and get some kind of focus or understanding about what their experiences mean for people outside of the formal institutions of education and what it is like to be a member of that community of communicators, I guess, in this country who have seen a great deal and have the knowledge and the facilities to talk about it. And if there is a part of their life that they can share with our audience and, you know, in fact the audience at WFMT, but to find out about the meaning of what this environment of work means and to find out about the meaning of the hazards, I guess, that are, that our culture confronts us with. The hazards might be physical or they might be spiritual, they might be emotional.
Studs Terkel At the very beginning I'd passed Dr. Carnow, because Bertram Carnow, as we know is one of the country's great authorities on polluted ailments and work environment, and you were talking about this very matter, Bob, so.
Bertram Carnow Well, let me say that the first time I met the Ericksens, and it's amazing to me how two people can remain so beautiful with all of the trials and tribulations that life in an industrial society has to offer. But, they came to me with great concern about a college which was being built on the South Side of Chicago, between two expressways next to a paint factory, and asked whether I thought that that was the kind of place that young people should be taught in. Now, there are so many reasons why that's a bad place for a school, that it's almost impossible to recount. But, we know, for example, that noise, studies that were done outside of a university where they simulated noise of a highway they were going to build next to this university showed that people developed asocial behavior. They tended to move away from groups. They tended to be more hostile. So, just the noise of the traffic would have been bad. But when you add to that all of the things that we know dull the senses, like carbon monoxide, [and irritant?] gases and so on, one has to begin to wonder at priorities which suggests to us that this is where we should build city colleges. And that was when I first met them, and we've been in contact since. And I think that the things that they're doing are critical things. I certainly think the remarkable book that you just did, Studs, "Working", is also a wonderful and important thing, and I mentioned to you that Rebecca, our 12-year-old, read the book and said that it was a book that turned her on more than anything she'd read in the last year.
Studs Terkel You know, it's interesting as we're talking, it occurs to me that all four of us are plowing the same path, different aspects of it. On the subject of Bob and Joan Ericksen, since you raised that, Dr. Carnow, I'm glad you did. I'm always astonished at seeing them every time, they seem as though they're of another place and another world, and yet they're very practical. They ask you, they always ask what Bronowski calls "the impertinent questions." You know, why must a school be built near this paint factory? Only they would ask that, you see. They're the ones who introduced me--you know, later on I met Buckminster Fuller through them. I'd known him before. Again, they as Buckminster Fuller in his way, do some sort of pioneering. Joan, how would you explain it? Why this program in the first place? Why are the four of us here?
Joan Ericksen Well, we asked both of you to meet with us today because we felt that both of you have been spending a great deal of time listening to people, and experimenting and learning about their environments, and we felt that Studs, from your point of view, you have a collection of stories from people all over the world telling you how they feel about their life, and you've had a perspective that not many people have had. You've been very open to a great broad section of people, you've never in any way isolated yourself from people, no matter what they were doing. And Dr. Carnow, because of his work, probably one of the few people in the country that has the so-called scientific information that is needed to make people aware of the things that they're in contact with, the technology that we are using, that may have not really caught up with our physiology, that our bodies aren't really capable of handling the type of chemicals we're using every day in our everyday life. And we felt both of you love people and are good with kids, and we spend a lot of time with children right now, giving children information about what people do--
Studs Terkel I think we should, I need to interrupt by saying, you used the phrase both of us love people, I don't know. I think it's, if I speak for Dr. Carnow, as you will, and myself, we both also have a great deal of anger toward those who run certain institutions that dominate the lives of a great many.
Bob Ericksen Let me interrupt and say that what is the incredible kind of picture that Joan and I see in both your works is that you do love people, you do have the heart, not only to do the hard work of finding out what people say, what they think, what's happening to them, but also to make sense out of that in some way that's communicable. In other words, you pass it on in the form that people like Dr. Carnow's daughter can really digest. You know that there are people all over doing the research and doing the studies and doing the figures and accumulating the facts and the specimens and everything else, but that's not translated, and that's really what this meeting's all about.
Studs Terkel What are interested in, I'd like to ask Dr. Carnow this, too, in connection with his work and his pioneering, too, is the human voice. The human voice, in many ways, the--we're speaking of autonomy now, the great need for--obviously, the great plaint is that people, the great many feel impotent, powerless and somebody does--who decided that this school would be next to the paint factory, you see. We come to the big question of decision-making, autonomy, people's right over their lives, don't we?
Bertram Carnow And I think this is part of the tragedy and the frustration. You know, I have a think about aerosols. It was some years ago that I began to recognize that this is really a, you know, a terrible, terrible thing from many points of view. If you talk just about the physiology, what aerosols do is they take liquids, many of them highly toxic, but which the body keeps out because you don't eat it or drink it or get it on your skin. And we produce it in such very tiny droplets that it can get deep into the lungs. Now I'm sure that what we're going to see over the years because of the incredible use, 6 billion cans a year, the incredible use of these materials, we're going to see all kinds of new diseases. We know that there is a disease, thesaurosis, that we see in people from hairsprays and we're finding now that underarm deodorants can do things to a lot of people. But more than what the physiologic effects are, the emotional effects, you know. We have all been convinced in our society that we smell bad. And nobody considers the question that, you know, if you smell bad, use soap and water. And, you know, one of the things about the work, I think I told you this before, Studs, my father was a printer, and it was always such a good feeling to snuggle up to him at night and smell the printers' ink. I didn't know at the time that that printers' ink contains some materials which might have been cancer-producing, but there was this smell of him. And now, you know, we're being told that the, you know, we're [unintelligible], we've all got to smell the same. And this is part of the thing I think that's being imposed on all of us, and the impotence is there. You know, how do you stop it. How do you divorce yourself from it. It's so difficult. The pressures are all there. You talk to children, and they say, you know, I asked one, "Why didn't you use your briefcase?" "Well, none of the other kids use a briefcase." And, so, you carry a whole assortment of papers in your hand, they fall all over the place, because none of the other kids use a briefcase. And all of us are put into this mold and that's a terrible thing, and I think that in your book this is what keeps coming on, nobody wants to be in a mall. Everybody wants to feel like what they're doing is meaningful and useful. And of the 80 million people who work for a living, I would say that there are a relative handful who come into that category.
Studs Terkel Again, the question of autonomy. That's why Joan and Bob have arranged this conversation. Those handful, the handful, the minority in the book, the minority of those I met, do have that sense of control of what they're doing to some extent, you see, not because they work in small--maybe it's their size, I don't know, it's a question that come up I suppose. Oh, God, decentralization always comes up, doesn't it, this matter of bigness, and yet, we know bigness alone is not the cause.
Joan Ericksen What things can both of you think of right now that you have, you know, what could a young person do today, if you were talking, say, to your daughter about something she could do with her life where she could get this feeling that she was doing something that was worthwhile? Throughout the book people say, "I'm just doing this job and it doesn't make any difference, a monkey can do it, anyone can do it." You--Throughout the book you feel also that they're not supposed to have a job that they enjoy. Work isn't supposed to be something that's enjoyable.
Bob Ericksen Is it a matter of communication that the word is not getting out? Is it a matter of people, young people or middle-aged people or retired people? It makes no difference the age. Is it a matter of their not being--having enough contact with people who have, you know, differing views?
Studs Terkel Isn't it more than that, isn't it a question of what does our society place most of its value on? Dr. Carnow was talking about aerosols, and we know these are multi, multimillion dollar industries, there they are on television, and there they are, reaching millions and millions of people. Now, we have to face up to it. We're kidding ourselves unless we do--unless we don't. And that is, what are the values put forth in this society? Are we thing-oriented or human-oriented? Are we death-oriented or are we life-oriented? Simple as that. And it comes to the question of, what are we selling? And, so, involves people in their work when they make--we hear about planned obsolescence. So many things people buy, you know, Joan and Bob, of course, are quite marvelous in this matter. They're getting along with so few of the unnecessary things that people consider necessary. But when we hear the phrase "planned obsolescence," involving so many objects, certainly the automobile, which we put the key, for the key symbol of our day is the auto, the demon lover.
Studs Terkel Ahh, so we come. When someone makes something that is obsolescent, he knows we--he considers himself as obsolescent. If a person makes a needless thing, then he's sort of needless in a sense, because work is a prime impulse of man as much as sex is or love is, so it has to be connected, doesn't it? So unless we face up to that.
Bertram Carnow But isn't that--if somebody's making a useless item, and particularly if he's only making one little part of that useless item, then what he's doing becomes meaningless except in that it keeps him alive and may keep his family alive. Now, this is very basic. I think that the basic drive of work is to give life meaning, but also to, you know, provide to them necessities of life. But I think it has to have more than that. I've always had a sense, and was raised with this, that work is what gives a human being dignity. But the kind, the way that that work has been extrapolated is to now deny him that dignity and I think that much of what we see, much of the neuroses that we see, relate to the kinds of things that people are doing that they don't feel are meaningful to them.
Studs Terkel Joan?
Joan Ericksen Well, this, you know, in regards to the assembly line, most of the car companies are having big problems now because they're turning out many, many cars that have lots of problems. Okay, and in your book it points out why. A man wants to talk to the man next to him. He wants to see something finished. He's tired. What happens to our glands all day long when we are, you know, that adrenal system has to be operating full time. When you're working on an assembly line, people are getting very mentally and physically fatigued. So in order to keep that factory worker doing his job on the line, it's going to take more than salt tablets, right, to keep him going. The products are getting less and less adequate for what they're being used for. People are going to start losing money. That's already happened. The quality of their products going down. The public, you know, continue to buy it. But I think we're at a different stage now. The material that you've uncovered, Studs, and the material that you have uncovered, I think you're going to be used. I think you're going to be in need. I think big business is going to be coming to this book to find out--
Studs Terkel You know what's funny your saying that, if I may just interject, is that I find this very paradoxical, interesting. I've gotten a good number of letters now from industries and management consultants to speak, or they're buying these books. It's as though they sense something underneath is going on.
Bertram Carnow Well, this is a major concern. This is their major concern at the moment, in many industries an incredible amount of absenteeism. There are workers who just don't want to get up and go to work on a particular morning because they're so discouraged. There's an incredible amount of alcoholism, a lot of drug-taking and so on. And one of the things that we have begun to look at and part of our program in occupational medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, is directed toward looking at the whole question of psychosocial aspects of the workplace, and we're looking at who becomes a heavy drinker as a result of the job. What kind of person is it that where divorce, for example, is a big part of the work thing. One of the things unfortunately that we're trying to do, in a sense, is instead of changing the job so much, trying to determine what kinds of people can work at what kinds of jobs. Just as there are people who are physically able to work in certain kinds of jobs, there are people who are mentally able to work at certain kinds of jobs. Now, I think what we have to do is deal with both of these facets. We have to deal with it with a job tedium and the job non-gratification and all of these things, and at the same time, try to determine what kinds of people can handle what kinds of jobs, because there are some people, it would be just as wrong to put some people on an assembly line as it would be to put somebody with asthma working with smoke, welding torches and so on. And this, I think, has become a really serious problem. It's really a paradox that this tremendous increase in production, which they thought the assembly line would produce, is now turning on itself and destroying production.
Bob Ericksen A little bit outside that area of the production line and the assembly line and the mass production but certainly within the same frame of reference in a physical, physiological, and psychological standpoint is what, and you mentioned it earlier, Studs, is what the artist gets into who supposedly within the academic institution is involved in the liberal arts and as everyone know, the art class, the art student is someone who can more or less define his own area of work on his own. He has a great deal of freedom. He's had--there has been a great deal of aggravation from this, from the standpoint of an academic institution that the artist has too much freedom, and yet we're now finding, as you are in your research and, obviously, it's been documented a good deal, that the artist is someone who's up against occupational hazards just as much as a man who is working at the Vega plant down in Lordstown or just as much as a man who is making knuckle guards for--
Studs Terkel I'd be curious, Dr. Carnow's, about Dr. Carnow's findings. We know about people, asbestos workers and what they get, and guys in the auto plants and guys who work in, women who work in watch factories and what they got. We know about the illnesses that people are subjected to. The miners, of course. What about artists?
Bertram Carnow Well, Ramazzini said it in 1700. He said in his book, he said, "Everybody knows that artists die before their time," and many of them are emotionally, have emotional problems, and he says a lot of it is because of the toxic materials they use. This is 1700. Now, the thing that concerned me is, it didn't start with the artist as much as it started with noting that a lot of the Do-It-Yourself at home, and people are doing a lot more of that, you know, with the gasoline shortage, staying at home, kids are participating a lot, and these, a lot of these materials are potentially very toxic. Most of them are not labeled, but a lot of the solvents, a lot of plastics have potential toxicity, but if you talk about artists or craftsmen, you're talking about a whole bag of things, all the way from the pigments and paints. You know, cadmium dust is related to emphysema, it's related to cancer of the prostate, in Japan, for example, women workers who inhaled it developed a disease called "Itai-Itai," which means "Ouch-Ouch disease," they had this terrible pain in the bones diagnosed as being psychological and then when one of them because of the pain committed suicide, she was autopsied and they found that this was cadmium poisoning. Well, cadmium and cobalt and chrome, chromates, and leads, all of these things are potentially toxic, and there are a lot of artists, you know, put the brush in the mouth and don't wash their hands, they grab a sandwich while they're painting and--
Joan Ericksen Do you explain a little bit for people who don't understand about skin absorption, because that's, you know, people think about, "Oh, I'm breathing something, I'm drinking something, I'm putting something in my mouth," but what about the absorptions in the hands?
Bertram Carnow Well, solvents, many solvents, first of all, solvents dry the skin. They destroy the oils in the skin. But many of them can be absorbed to some degree, and they can be toxic. Well, everybody knows about the vinyl chloride.
Bertram Carnow Well, the answer, you see, the answer to so many things, Studs, is knowledge. Knowledgeable artists will, when they use, first of all, many of them won't use asbestos anymore. When they do work with pottery and they do the sanding, they'll wear a mask. They have ventilation. But there are a lot of people who would do it in an unventilated room at home, in the basement. And it's the millions of people who are exposed. Now, fortunately, they don't have a lot of exposure, but there are a lot of people now who are taking off on their own and doing these things, and a lot of people who are really not aware. You see, solvents are very pleasant-smelling, but vinyl chloride is, we now feel that there is no safe dose of this solvent which is used not only in some hairsprays, but they're used as a solvent in artwork and so on. And many of the solvents, not only the pigments but the solvents, toluene, xylene, benzene, turpentine, vinyl chloride, all of these compounds are potentially very toxic and I think if people are aware. Well, if you use a volatile material that's a fume or a smoke or a gas, you have a vent, or at least you keep windows open. You wear a mask. If you're working with dusts, you clean up, you don't let it lay around on the floor where it can be kicked up, and so on. You know, maintaining hygiene in an art studio is just as important as in a workplace. So it's the knowledge of the potential of these materials that makes the difference.
Bob Ericksen But you break it down to an individual, and one of the first men within the trade, in the article, in the arts trade, if you can call it that, who became knowledgeable with Robert Mallory at least in a publicized sense there, I'm sure there are a lot of them who went out into the field or who died who had difficulty with their environment, their substances were extremely toxic. But isn't it true that Mallory in gaining his knowledge almost croaked?
Bertram Carnow Yeah, well, sometimes it takes this and frequently it's not even, it's not even known. I don't think it's been well-documented and I don't know whether it ever can be. But one of the things that lead poisoning can do is cause edema inside the eyes, and if you look at Van Gogh's late paintings, you'll find the circles around the stars and the circles around the lights and the circles around the moon. Now it's conceivable that this could have been glaucoma, those people who have glaucoma see circles, but it could be lead poisoning.
Studs Terkel This may sound like a silly question. Can't--when we ask about work, perhaps we can come to the matter of work environment, too, involving asbestos workers and, as well as miners and others. As far as the artist, can't these materials, the same materials that are used for art, can't something be added to them to make them harmless, or is this a ridiculous question?.
Bertram Carnow Well, the thing is, for example, there are a lot of artists who want to mix their own pigments and they use the dry materials to mix. I think these materials should be mixed and put into a non-dusty form in a place where you have good, adequate ventilation so that I think artists should be encouraged to use, you know, pastels and things that have already been mixed. and not to mix them themselves. Now again, if a man works only in pastels and he wants his own colors and he wants his own shades and so on, then he can do it if he understands that while he's doing it there should be good ventilation, and this is not expensive if it's done appropriately.
Joan Ericksen And their watercolors and we have a whole beautiful history of tribal people throughout man's history using nontoxic substance in a very beautiful way. And, so, we really have a lot to draw on. We have the African culture, we have Indian culture, we have many cultures which in some cases didn't use the best, but in some cases used things that were very compatible with a human being. So I don't think we're at a loss, and I think we're really at a point where this is why the interest has been so heavy in the arts of other people, because people are realizing they can't get the beautiful colors, individual things are looking for, so I think we're all right with that. I think we're going--
Studs Terkel You know, Joan is probably touching on one of the key aspects of what we're talking about right now this year in 1974. That maybe we've got to take a look at where we've come as far as progress, scientific in every way and the human being as well as, you know, autonomy and beauty, too. You know, I know this is your program--
Bertram Carnow I'd like to get back, I think all of these things are important. You know, the fact that millions of people can be exposed and so on. Again, I don't want to discourage the children from dealing with art forms. It's a major form of expression. I think only that the things that they use should be safe things and people should recognize the potential dangers of things particularly like solvents and dry pigments, dust and so on. But I'd like to get back to what you were talking about before, the whole question of how do you tell young people what it's all about and how do you help them to find their way? I think that, you know, if we read your book, Studs, that we can pick out a list of occupations would seem more gratifying than others, and maybe we just tell people to go into those, but then we won't have any waitresses and we won't have any, you know, any of so many other things that will have a lopsided society. How do we--you see, again, I don't think it's a question of convincing young people, it's a question of convincing society that there's an intrinsic dignity in the work. And I think that's what we haven't done, and some societies have done this, where a coal miner is extolled, you know, as a not only a virtuous man but as a dedicated person dedicated to serving society. And with us, I think it's all turned over. It's, you know, the politicians who get it all, the professionals will get it all, and the guy who's collecting the garbage somehow doesn't get any of that, and yet, all you have to do is look at New York when they had the garbage strike to find out who is really important. You know, you could have done without any of the lawyers in New York that week, but you couldn't without the garbagemen.
Studs Terkel Well, of course--may I say something? I was just thinking about what Dr. Carnow said about the waitresses, and of course, there's this waitress whom I know who's in the book, and you see, she will not be demeaned, even the work need not be demeaning either, in some societies. But so accustomed to tip and everything else. Nonetheless, she fantasizes and daydreams now. It's not a question of young people being urged to get jobs in which you have to daydream to survive the day and maintain your sanity. It's a question, you say work itself being respected. Just as we're talking now, I'm sure we're learning each of us and observing, forgetting the book for a moment. I'm on tour for the book, right, and I'm in Minneapolis. And a young guy named Larry comes up at this at this bookstore, Dayton's, where there's an autographing event going on, and he has overalls on, he's a janitor. He's also gone to college. But he's doing the job of janitor because there's little work for the academic today. You know, the tight market. At the same time, his wife is studying law. She's in law school at the University of Minnesota, one of the universities near there, and he's also an actor at night, an acting group. There are many act--there are many theater groups in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and I said, "Are there many--is there more and more?" Not so much because of the tightness of the market. That's one thing. I think it would have happened anyway. This tendency. This may be the one salubrious effect still remaining as a result of the '60s. We hear so much about apathy and deadness on the campus. But the one thing I think that's come out is more of those who have college educations are involving in manual work. And, so, the status aspect, I think, is less than it ever was. This may be at the moment, the hook, perhaps, on which we can hang our hats.
Bertram Carnow Well, I think with young people it isn't there. I think young people respect each other, you know, because of intrinsic worth. I think that, you know, the cop-out that a generation or two earlier, where the whole idea was to get yourself in a position where you could push a lot of other people around. And this was--but again, you know, that's part of the whole topsy-turvy thing. You think of the ultimate success, the ultimate success in our industrial society is to achieve a state as early as possible where you don't do anything at all. And, to me, that's a, that's a meaningless thing. The whole idea is to retire. Make it as fast as you can, retire as fast as you can. And that is success. That, to me, is total failure.
Studs Terkel A much greater failure after 30 and out, you know, as the auto worker or for that matter the middle-management man. So 30 years of doing nothing, 30 years of zero-ness to get to retire. Seems 30 years of the most fruitful aspects of your life shot. But--No--There's one other thing, one warning, and perhaps, just as we're saying the young are fusing, a great many, this is a minority. Of course, we do know on the campus that we have to face the reality, too, my agents on the campus tell me this, you know, that there are more and more status-conscious young people now than there were before. The freshmen are more status-conscious than their older brothers sisters were. There are more pre-med courses, but not in the manner of Bertram Carnow, the boudoir medicine, you know, there are more pre-legal than there were before, but not in the manner of poor peoples medicine. So again here's the tightness, here's the Depression mentality now suddenly reappearing. But at the same time, too, I think there are two forces are at work here, and this is a polarity.
Bob Ericksen It is cyclical, though, it goes in and out. We look down the tube and maybe we see that frightening kind of dragon rearing its head of sameness and things like that. But again, the people within the framework of your work and Dr. Carnow's work who are committed and who do in fact contribute something are those individuals who refuse to become a part of that mass. And that's a difficult characteristic looking down the four years of college or looking down the 12 years of med school, or whatever it might be.
Joan Ericksen Say, for example, the young people that you're meeting on a college campus, so if they do get the job they want. They reach the point of success that they hope to attain. Okay, then you have this period of searching for happiness, for diversity, the diversity goes, okay, and you reach all the monetary situations. There are so many people that you've run into who have told you the same story. "I'm not happy." They're always looking, going to a new place for a vacation. Some of the wealthiest women in the world out to buy that new design that really turns them on, that diversity, they're still looking for diversity. As much as you knock all this down, happiness is really what people are going to be eventually looking for once they lose it. Once you meet, you know, you reach it. So I don't, I think in some regards you have a whole group of people out there trying to get happy again. They've made the money, but they're trying to get happy again, have the opportunity of sitting down with a person that makes you feel good or doing something that counts. I think this is becoming more and I really--
Bertram Carnow Well, do you think this is of society's values or why? I mean, how do you--you know, I think a lot of this may relate to what Madison Avenue does. They create discontent. This is their whole object is to create discontent to make you want something you don't have, no matter what you do have.
Bertram Carnow Of
Studs Terkel course. Real discontent, with the discontent that the inequities of our society, at the death orientation rather than life orientation, but the discontent they create is for the wanting of the unnecessary things. Yeah, yeah.
Joan Ericksen Yeah, they're playing with something very big. They're playing with a person not feeling at home with themselves, feeling that they are not a person, not a being, a person who has developed. Okay? So you keep--there is one beautiful thing in the book talking about putting people down. What you can do when you put a person down, you know.
Joan Ericksen The box boy. The man that? The box boy he talked about. Yeah. Oh, the guy, yeah. It's through the whole thing, okay? Scott Crawford. Red Hauser, I call him. Red Hauser, yeah. Getting a person to believe that he really isn't worth anything is what they're playing with, and whether it's their underarms or if it's their teeth, or whatev--you know, so you have a--they do have an edge but there is a reality of a person seeking something beyond this monetary after he's got his teeth cleaned, his armpits smell beautiful and his hair looks just the way he wants it. He's still in trouble, he still has to live, he still has to exist, and he's still basically needs love and some kind of excitement and diversity. So I don't think they--I don't think the advertising market has it all. I really don't. I don't think Madison Avenue is--yeah, it's done, it's told, but I think there's hope. I really do. I think it goes beyond this.
Joan Ericksen I want to ask you something, Studs, about this. I may be misinformed about this. I remember several years back, maybe 7 years ago, about the education system in Russia, where any man who was a poet, a scientist, a writer, any person in any field who was contributing to the society was brought into the schools and he was to spend one day out of every month working with kids, and Bob and I have thought about this a great deal. You know, now you're being invited to go to schools, I'm sure, and Dr. Carnow has gone to a lot of elementary and high schools.
Studs Terkel A better example of that would be Metro. Metro High School here. For that matter, St. Mary's Center for Learning, too, in which the students go to the various places, you know, of the city of where they live, but also the people who are invited in are not necessarily the quote unquote professionals or the academics, you see. But there's something else we're touching on, we're just touching on it. Dr. Carnow, when you--at the very beginning of this program, when Dr. Carnow was speaking of both Bob and Joan Ericksen, you said, they asked him, "Why is that school put next to that paint factory? Kids might be subject to various poisonings, lead poisoning and others. And who is making this decision?" And people's feeling of not having, not being worthwhile, we'll come to that, people's lack of sense of personal worth, being put down, the box boy in the supermarkets being put down, finally people accept being demeaned. Can I just cite one experience? There we are, heading for, I am heading for Madison, Wisconsin about a year ago. And on a train, due there at 6:15 for a cocktail party and then the talk. Okay, the train stops about 40 miles outside, ten miles outside Milwaukee, Madison rather, 20 miles. A place called Columbus, I forget--Stops. It just stopped. Nobody says anything, only about six of us on the train. I remember this young guy with rimless glasses, two nuns, my wife and myself with one other person, and it stopped. Half an hour, 40 minutes. I'm getting mad, you know, finally get some break, the trainman said, "Oh, something went wrong." I said, "What about, what happened?" "Oh, I don't know. There'll be a bus picking you up when we get over to Columbus." When we finally come to Columbus, no bus, no nothing. I'm getting mad. "Where's the bus?" He says, "Oh, I don't know." You know, I missed the party, of course, but will I miss the talk? And finally I says, "What the hell is going on here?" And this young guy with the glasses says, "What are you complaining about? They're doing the best they can." I says, "Are you a stockholder in this company?" He says no. And then the two sisters agreed with me, "I'm glad you said that." But the point is, he represents that which is frightening to me. The acceptance of authority, no matter what, no matter how horrendous it might be, no matter what it does to us physically, to our spirit, to our amenities, it's the acceptance of it, and the challenging of someone who challenges, and that I find more and more the case. And it's because of lack of sense personal worth again. And this is the thing that I fear much, the acceptance of daily debasements more and more.
Joan Ericksen delight. We were invited to come to a career day program in Washburn, Illinois. A group of children invited us to talk about what we do, and some of the questions that they asked were very interesting in regards to what people are doing with their time, and I think the thing that you talk about, authority, anything that is outside of the realm of what is understood as being accepted, they are really worried about it. You know, is it really all right that you only make three thousand dollars a year, and, you know, they have all the answers for whatever occupation is, they know how much people are making, they want to know how many hours you're working, what you're doing.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Joan Ericksen It's a funny kind of situation. A very young, fourth, fifth grade, they're already have picked up all these things that you're talking about, the authority, you know, of doing something, how--they said to us, "Now, you're artists, but you're working in the field of environment. Now, you're not a scientist." And we said, "No, we're not a scientist." "But wh--how, why, how can you do that then?" We said, "We're just doing it." You see, or, say,
Studs Terkel How dare you question authority since you are not, quote unquote, authority, which comes to work environment again. This is Bertram Carnow's field, one of his fields. Who is a better judge of work environment, of what's wrong in a plant or an office or of some people who work there? Yet, you know, the dream of their deciding, we have the man above deciding, don't you, the time, the efficiency man.
Joan Ericksen But let me ask you this, Studs, you know, you were talking about accepting authority, and who is making the decisions. Now, most people are making a decision on a visual level as far as industry is concerned. If you see smoke--
Joan Ericksen Or the artist. He's not concerned with what's going on in the invisible world, right? So we're still working, all of us are basically working on a visible level, we're looking at people, we're judging them visually as well, sound-wise we are, we are walking to a plant and we're saying, "Oh, I smell something that smells bad." You remember in the early days of the air pollution fights I used to say, they had a phrase for air pollution, it was "a nasty smell," or they had some cute little phrase, but I can't remember. Can you remember what it was, how they referred to smoke? But anyway, the whole idea--
Joan Ericksen The whole idea of working on a visible level, we were interviewing a man last week, and he was talking about, you know, the sludge that's going to be transferred from Chicago out to the farms and people are saying out there, "Why, I don't know if I want to grow human food on this or even for cows, for that matter, because we hear that there are metals that can be passed on through the system, that can be absorbed by the plant life and ingested by people." You know, is this--You know, they're questioning this, one man said, "Well, all I can say is what I see. I put it on, you know, the field and the crops are growing great." And he said, "I have nothing to go by except what I see." Okay? So here we need to bring the level of what we do every day beyond the visible level.
Bertram Carnow Sure. But, again, I think the point that Studs made, you know, that it's the worker who knows what the score is in most cases, and again, you know, I hate to get back to the rediscovery of the wheel, but Ramazzini, in 1700, the most important thing he said in his book was, you know, "Don't sit on the chair like the lord when you walk into a worker's home. Sit down on a three-legged stool and listen to what he's got to say, because he'll make a diagnosis for you." And I think that members of my profession still have to learn this, we can because we're in a hurry to know what the patient has to say. But in most cases, they'll tell you what's really wrong with them.
Joan Ericksen That's all you really have to go with now, because you're not going into the patients home, you're not going into his work, so you have to rely on what he's going to tell you. I think this is why many doctors sit down and say, "Well, is there something emotionally bothering you know, where do you work?" They're beginning to realize they can't see--
Bertram Carnow No, what they may do is, they say, "What do you do?" And the guy says, "Well, I work in a plant or I work in an industry." And that's not the important question, the important question is whether he's a molder or a grinder.
Studs Terkel "What
Bertram Carnow do you do?" "What do you do?" That's right. You see the other thing is that a lot of people who are sick are older people, and so you ask them what they do. And the guy says, "Well, I'm a watchman" or "I'm a security guard" or, you know, he has some little job, and that's the end of it. But they don't say, "Well, what did you do in your life?" You know? What we do is, we start out and we say, "I mean, what was your first job?" And it's interesting to look at the recall because the guy goes all the way back, and because he had forgotten what he had done. And then you take them through the jobs and you find that in most workers' lives, you know, I'm thinking at a level, blue-collar workers, that they've been exposed to a multitude of things and many of them could be related to the things that are bothering them now. And this becomes very important, particularly if they are continuing to be exposed, so that one of the things I've been pushing very hard is that it's critical to ask these questions, because you raise a whole bunch of different questions in the thing that you discussed, the whole question of visible world, the question of authority. I think there has to be authority, and you know, I think we have anarchy that's no good if everybody is doing their thing to the ultimate that's no good, either. But I think the right to question authority, and the right to find out why something is being done, that is a right that we should cherish. That's the critical one, I think. And not to have the feeling that we're going to be put down when we question.
Studs Terkel This really is, isn't this, Joan, Bob, what Dr. Carnow said, isn't it where coming to, I realize our conversation, you know, comes in about four different directions. It's all as you know, obviously, that's why you and Bob had this in mind, it's related. What all four of us are doing is related. And, yet, it comes to the question of questioning authority. Who decided? Who makes these decisions? And, again, I say I am disturbed very much by more and more the acceptance of the daily, I'm not talking about Watergate. I'm talking about the demeanings, the debasements daily in our daily lives. And I can recount a number of stories about the same thing.
Bertram Carnow Well, the whole series, I mean, they happen every day. I had a, I was out of the city and had a rental car, and the air conditioning didn't work at all, and it was a very hot day. And when I walked in I said to the young lady, "The air conditioning wasn't working in the car and I'm disturbed because the last six cars that I've rented, you know, one the brakes went out completely, one the windshield wipers didn't work at all," and I said, "You know, this presents a hazard to somebody who doesn't know the automobile and who may be in a strange city or strange state, which is usually the case, and I don't understand why these cars are not more adequately serviced." She said, "Well, you should check them out." Well, who checks out the windshield wipers on a nice day? Who, you know, you're not going, you're not buying the car, you just want to rent the car.
Bertram Carnow That's the point. The onus is put on me, and she got annoyed with me. She got very annoyed with me. She said, "Well, I didn't do it. I didn't service the car." And I said, "Well, I understand that. I was just suggesting that maybe you ought to say something to somebody about it."
Joan Ericksen Let me ask you this. There are a lot of people out there that have information that's very pertinent to solving these problems, and some of them are not in the position of authority to getting this information out because of put-downs. What channels do you both see for the future? Your book is a channel.
Joan Ericksen I
Bertram Carnow Well, again I think you have to get to the young people, and you have to try as much as you can to help them define appropriately, you know, without the gloss and without the Madison--you know, part of the problem is that people expect so much from things, that you know, things are given a tinsel and a weird glamour that helps to destroy even at the beginning. This is also part of the problem. You know, I keep coming back to Madison Avenue because I feel that this is where the alienation and the tinsel--
Bertram Carnow Well, you know, it's always bugged me. I've always been considered kind of a kook because I insist on calling my secretaries that work with me and a lot of the other people by their last name. And I suggested that since it wouldn't be appropriate for them to call me by my first name, I don't think that I should theirs. And a lot of people understand that. They think it's just a weird quirk. But I don't think it is at all. That's the same put-down with the shoeshine boy, with the [sand?], with the thing, and it's the kind of thing that bugs me. No, I think with Studs it's different, it's kind of a trademark with you, and--
Joan Ericksen But when we go into schools, we ask the children to call us Joan and Bob, and a lot of teachers say, "Well, why don't you call Joan, you know, Mr. and Mrs. Ericksen?" and I think it has to do with, you know, a lot of doctors if you said, you know, "Doctor," they get caught--
Studs Terkel You know, there's something else. You know, something with word "doctor," now I know, I'm not talking about Dr. Carnow, he's quite unique, but this matter of doctor, you see, the word 'doctor" is used in all societies, I remember in South Africa, everybody was a doctor, a Ph.D., often you'll find--I'm not putting down Ph.Ds who go as doctor, often you will find these incredible, incompetent educators defending one another, doctor so-and-so, well, recently, Dr. Willis you'll recall here, is [unintelligible] Dr. So-and-So, another educator, the coterie of doctors. Now, as far as MDs, too, they become--they're obviously very good specializing in what they do or general practitioners, but what I'm talking about are humanists like Carnow, but suddenly they become authorities on everything.
Joan Ericksen When you think about a tribal society, if we were living in a tribal society today, there would be a medicine man who would have contact with us most of our life, our living life. We'd move together, be together. Our medicine men of today, the doctor, you have to find one. He doesn't see your life, you don't see his--
Bertram Carnow That's true, but you see, it's the same with the mechanic, it's the same with everything else in the society. You know, we spread out physically, we spread out psychically, we become alienated generally. It's everybody locks his door now, nobody locked the door 30 years ago. It's--
Joan Ericksen Well, we're there. We're out with the kids all the time. But what I'm saying, some of the best minds of our society are spending their time like you are, running back and forth on airplanes, writing books. How much real time, I'm talking about real time, I mean sitting, rubbing, talking, smelling another human being who is excited about what he's doing? You know? Kids ask us--
Bertram Carnow Yeah, but how much time is there? You know, a part of what we have to do is to teach people these things, that one of the most exciting things about what I'm doing now is that this new school of public health is all sorts of fantastic, beautiful young people are coming in to go out into the health fields. And a lot of them have been turned on about occupational diseases and occupational health. You know, in the group that I have working with me, I have one, an anthropologist, a minister, a minister at a church in Gary and found out that hell was in the coke ovens and decided to get involved in educational health.
Studs Terkel You know, as we're talking, this is ridiculous. The ridiculous part is the clock now. You see, this is an hour program we have--and it doesn't--let's say we have an hour program and fade off as we're talking, but perhaps--I realize that Joan and Bob Ericksen didn't expect answers written on tablets here. You won't get them from anybody, least of all from Dr. Carnow and myself. It's just what you're doing is raising certain critical questions, I think of--facing us right now. What--where does this leave us? That's what you want to know, doesn't it?
Bertram Carnow Well, I'm not sure where it leaves us, because the other question that you raise is, the question that you raised of who makes the decisions leaves us, in a sense, lost and frustrated, and insofar as, you know, each of us can make an impact, we do, but in terms of how a society moves, or where it goes, or the kind of value system that it develops, I really don't know.
Studs Terkel You know, I use as a footnote somewhere in the book and I remember it, I'll never forget it. I was doing narration for a series of films at the University of Wisconsin did, ten people in this Midwestern area, we played before Black ghetto children in Milwaukee schools, and among the ten was a rather dull accountant, lawyer or realtor living somewhere in the North Shore suburb telling about his possessions, showing his possessions, very dull man, and Richard Hunt, a very brilliant, a Black sculptor was one, maybe it was for Black ghetto kids. And there were a number of others, but who do you think was the most popular one among the Black ghetto kids?
Studs Terkel to-- The accountant realtor. Who was the least popular? The Black sculptor, because it also was determined these kids watched television commercials regularly, and they saw the man who had all the possessions, they saw all these films in which certain people live these ersatz lives with these possessions, and that's what they came to value, you see.
Joan Ericksen But our experience is different than that. The program that we did called "The Sun Gave Man the Power", which was oral histories told by the Blackfeet elder members of the tribe, contemporary, mixed in with scientists, doctors and lawyers, people who have an academic kind of vocabulary. The children listened attentively, lovingly, and with joy to the Indians, and the academic community it's the other situation, they tune them out. It's very funny.
Joan Ericksen Right.
Studs Terkel No, it's the same. I'm merely adding to Dr. Carnow's point about what mass media commercials do as against what individuals are doing, you see. See, you and Bob are doing something and there are, fortunately there are tens of thousands, cause you and Bob, not too many--
Joan Ericksen People that were talking from their own life, just as the way the people are talking from their own life in your book, these are the people they listen to, very attentively, we may be, we've shown the problem to maybe about 10,000 children now and we watch every, you know, audience.
Bob Ericksen The man looks like a doctor. He sounds like a doctor. If there's a title card go on that says "Doctor," they get restless, and when Mae Williamson talks about her--the old woman in her tribe bringing some medicine to stop the hemorrhaging--
Studs Terkel Well, what I see happening here is quite clear to me is that this is going to be an open-end close. You know, we'll just keep talking until we're finally faded out because there is no immediate--what we're doing now is we're raising--
Studs Terkel You know, I've stolen your pro--I know you had arranged this, but I'm going use this on my morning program. Bob and Joan Ericksen are the moderators of what began, moderators of this program, participants with Dr. Bertram Carnow and myself. Thank you very much.