Home | Contents | Photos | News | Reviews | Store | Forum | ICI | Educators | Fans | Contests | Help | FAQ | Info

Blaming the Victim

A response to Blaming the Victim:

Debating the "blame the victim" mentality
A correspondent sent me the following "manifesto":

The Aslum Khan Manifesto

1 – "People are full of shit." – Chris Rock

This is the essential paradox of all human existence. You will find that, no matter who you talk to, no matter how intelligent or stupid, or what demographic they fit into, if you know enough about them, you will find some essential contradiction in their lives, between what they say they believe, and what they do or have done. As a result, it is wrong, in my view, for any of us to pass judgment on anybody, because there is probably something about us that can just as easily be judged.

2 – We should govern using Conservative solutions to Liberal problems. To me, the ideal form of government is one in which teams, not individuals, compete. So you maintain capitalism, but instead of pitting man against man, you pit groups against groups. Japanese corporations are built this way. Likewise, Liberal values of respect for minority groups and compassion for the poor are good, but Liberal solutions in the forms of legal fines and social programs, IMO, are ultimately ineffective and do more harm than good. The solution to poverty is education, not physical aid. The solution to racism is maximizing the effectiveness of members of racial groups. Gandhi's parable of teaching a man to fish being preferable to giving a man a fish is what I live by. The best thing the government does is provide tax incentives for altruistic actions. Rich people are not inherently evil. Many of them are happy to pay money – for whatever reason – to help the poor. Questioning their motives for doing so is just cynicism and divisive.

3 – Michael Jackson's "Man In The Mirror" is the ultimate message song, because that is the actual solution to all of the world's problems. Maximize your effectiveness as an individual, and you will lead not only by example, but will be a part of the solution, not the problem.

4 – America is the greatest country in the world, on standard of living alone. Even people who claim to hate this country come here in droves because they know, deep down, that there is no comparison in terms of standard of living and opportunity. In America, anybody can potentially do anything – in most other countries, you ultimately have a fixed income (and in many, you don't even have basics). The only thing we lack is universal health care, which IMO, is a crime. My solution to that problem is health care vouchers – same idea as school vouchers, except that you go to a free clinic, get a voucher to see any doctor, anywhere, and get the treatment you need. Doctors should be unable to tell if the voucher comes from an actual insurance company or not – indeed, the insurance companies, IMO, should administer the program.

5 – The model which all other nations should aspire to is Japan. Japan is, IMO, the only realistic alternative to America, again, in terms of standard of living. It is, IMO, the second greatest country in the world.

6 – Poverty is a mindset, not a condition. Poor people have poor attitudes and poor values. There are rich people with poor attitudes and poor values that ultimately lead them to poverty as well. Likewise, there are poor people with rich attitudes / values that come into wealth eventually as a result. The solution to poverty is to make information available to those with rich attitudes. The mentally poor will remain poor until they change mentally, and that is an individual choice. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him / her drink.

To which I responded:

>> Gandhi's parable of teaching a man to fish being preferable to giving a man a fish is what I live by. <<

It takes money to pay the teachers and buy the fishing rods. While Gandhi's philosophy is noble, it doesn't eliminate the need for financial aid.

>> Rich people are not inherently evil. <<

Maybe not, but Jesus didn't have much good to say about them.

>> 4 – America is the greatest country in the world, on standard of living alone. <<

Wrong. Other countries, mainly in Europe, rate higher on most standard-of-living measures. See the following for details:

Countries with Highest Standards of Living

Myth: The U.S. has the world's highest standard of living

World map showing top 10 countries with high standard of living

>> Even people who claim to hate this country come here in droves because they know, deep down, that there is no comparison in terms of standard of living and opportunity. <<

Freedom and opportunity are different from the standard of living. People may have more freedom or opportunity in the US to maximize their potential. But the people-oriented cultures of some European countries raise their overall standard of living higher.

>> 6 -- Poverty is a mindset, not a condition. Poor people have poor attitudes and poor values. <<

Blame the victim? That's a pretty ignorant position to take. What if your cancer scare had come to pass? It might've wiped out whatever savings you had and made you practically homeless. How would that have been a reflection of your attitude or values?

Read Barbara Ehrenreich's Five and Dimed, then tell me how poor working people can make themselves well-off with the right attitude. Read Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities, then tell me how education is the solution to the poor's problems. (It might be if we funded education at the level needed to correct the outstanding problems, but that's far from happening.)

>> You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him / her drink. <<

You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ears.

See The Myth of Self-Reliance for a typical analysis of how Americans claim to be rugged individualists while they wallow in handouts from their neighbors and the government.


The debate continues (9/12/05)....
>> BINGO! NOW you see how I became such a big capitalist. <<

Bingo? You don't seem to have realized how the need to pay the teachers and buy the fishing rods invalidates your claim that the poor are responsible for being poor. They are not responsible if they don't have the resources to pull themselves out of poverty.

>> Jesus (PBUH) also urged us to judge not. I'm surprised he didn't live by his own teachings. <<

Jesus was hypocritical in some ways. Unlike my positions, his weren't completely consistent and logical.

>> Again, this "Manifesto" is of things that I personally believe, not that are necessarily true. <<

So you believe what you believe whether it's true or not? Scary.

>> Obviously, having not visited even a fraction of all of the countries in the world, there's no way I'd know for certain. <<

You couldn't measure standards of living even by visiting countries personally. I pointed you to the statistics, so you don't need to take my word for it. Educate yourself with the facts.

>> They're not victims. I believed that most of my life, until I started living among the poor. <<

Sure they're victims. Read the books on all the structural impediments that keep people poor.

Your personal experiences are hardly relevant compared to the vast weight of data people have amassed over the years. They're barely worth discussing.

>> Suddenly I started noticing things like lack of personal hygiene amongst the poor. <<

I question whether you see anything with clear, unbiased eyes.

I was earning less than $20,000 a year myself for a few years. I can guarantee you my standard of cleanliness didn't change. This sounds like nothing more than a ridiculous stereotype.

>> That was the main thing I learned from my girlfriend -- poor people are poor by choice. <<

Your girlfriend sounds terribly ignorant, so I wouldn't believe anything she said or did. Nothing she says or does seems representative of the poor.

>> I never even considered that until recently. <<

This is a common claim among conservative ignoramuses and has been for decades. The sources I've referred to have effectively refuted it for decades. Again, study the facts and evidence.

>> Most poor people truly believe that they're "meant" to be poor -- that their poverty is as much a part of life as the weather. <<

Another ridiculous stereotype without basis in fact. Really, you shouldn't bother unless you can support your claims with evidence. I'll just tell you how foolish you sound.

>> When given opportunities, they don't even take them, or seek out the knowledge. <<


>> When my girlfriend and I went to the free seminar in Hawthorne about starting your own business, which we found by an advertisement at Inglewood Library, we learned that they provide /free lawyers/, /free business consulting/, and /free training/. <<

Great. So this proves you're not illiterate, unlike some poor people. You have transportation to the library, unlike some poor people. You have a college education that lets you benefit from those free services, unlike some poor people. (If you think someone with an 8th-grade education can easily frame a question for a lawyer or consultant, think again.)

>> Of the two dozen or so people who were there, my girlfriend lamented that the majority were white or Asian. <<

The majority of poor people are white, I'm pretty sure. If the audience reflected the makeup of the population at large (about 12% black, for instance), what does that prove?

>> The teacher was Black, but for her, it was telling to see that so few poor Black people took advantage of resources being /given/ to them, much like her ex-husband, her parents, and her extended family. <<

How many black people were working two jobs, taking care of children, or suffering from some illness or handicap while the seminar was going on? Again, you haven't begun to think through the issues. Your take on the matter seems superficial, and so does your teacher's if she agrees with you.

True, some poor people hold themselves back by their lack of initiative. And so do some rich people. That poor people are any different in terms of drive or motivation is patently absurd.

>> But it was her, not me, that was gung ho about starting her own business, and her that's bending over backwards to try to go to school to help raise her daughter, fix her credit, and so on. <<

Which is exactly what many poor people are doing, or trying to do, despite the many structural barriers in their way.

>> Poverty is a mindset -- it's not about race or conditions. <<

Ignorance is a mindset. It happens when you have "beliefs" unsupported by facts and evidence.

More information for Khan
From David Corn's blog, 9/9/05:

AFTER THE FLOOD, THE UN. It's no wonder the Bushies detest the United Nations. Just when the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina shows the world that the most super superpower is not so super, here comes the UN to point out some other—shall we say—problem areas for the United States. In its annual Human Development Report, the UN Development Program measures and charts various economic and social indicators. And the United States doesn't always fare well. In income inequality, Namibia, Brazil, South Africa and Chile top the list. The United States is in the middle, while Egypt, Poland, France, Russia, Albania, Hungary and Sweden score better. (The obvious response is to say its better to be poor in the United States than in Ethiopia, but this measurement shows what a country does with what it has.) The report notes that the infant mortality rate for black Americans (14 per 1000 live births) is more than double that of white Americans (6 per 1000 live births), and that the US average equals that of Malaysia. (The US African-America infant mortality rate is worse than that of Uruguay.)

The report notes, "The United States leads the world in healthcare spending. On a per capita basis the United States spends twice the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average on healthcare, or 13% of national income. Yet some countries that spend substantially less than the United States have healthier populations. US public health indicators are marred by deep inequalities linked to income, health insurance coverage, race, ethnicity, geography and—critically—access to care." The report also notes that child poverty in the United States is on the rise. The UNDP defines child poverty as living in a family with an income below 50 percent. That strikes me as a rather wide definition. But the key thing is the trend, and the UN reports that more American children are living below this level than in recent years. Mexico, too, has seen such a rise (or fall). But England has cut back on the number of children living at this level by increasing tax credits and benefits for low-income people.

Recently, the US government reported a slight rise in the number of Americans living in poverty. Economists and statisticians do quibble over these stats, and, no doubt, it is hard to get a fix on precisely what qualifies as poverty. But, again, the trend matches the trend tacked by the UN. Moreover, one might ask, where are the indicators showing a decline in poverty? And as far as metaphors go, one need only look at the footage from NOLA.

"Deep inequalities" in "access to health care"...tell me again how that's the fault of poor people's poor attitude. Should poor people with 8th-grade educations quit whining about poor health care and become doctors, build hospitals, or start HMOs themselves?

This is one of many factors that limit black participation in self-help business seminars. But you don't see it because of your ideological blinders.

The debate continues (10/24/05)....
More on the "teach a man to fish" saying:

>> You don't seem to have realized how the need to pay the teachers and buy the fishing rods invalidates your claim that the poor are responsible for being poor.

I don't, actually. Explain? <<

You offered the hoary chestnut about teaching the poor to fish as if that's all it takes. I pointed out how teaching people to fish doesn't address all the related issues. You can't teach people to fish unless you pay for teachers. People can't fish unless you buy them equipment to fish with. They also can't fish if they have children to take care of, don't have transportation to the lake, have a disease which makes holding a pole impossible, etc. Now do you understand, or do I have to break it down even more simply?

On the claim that the poor are dirtier than everyone else:

>> I don't know your background, Rob, but I imagine it was somewhat like mine. I was middle to upper middle class until I started living on my own. <<

Yes. But I don't base my claim about the poor's cleanliness on my own experience. I base it on everything I've heard and read about poor people. Christine Rose, who has actually visited some of the poorest homes in Indian country, confirmed my claim.

And on the free "start a business" seminar in Hawthorne, California:

>> (If you think someone with an 8th-grade education can easily frame a question for a lawyer or consultant, think again.)

They specialize in dealing with poor people. That's why they're in Hawthorne. Ask however you like. <<

Someone offering a business opportunity doesn't necessarily know how to speak to the poor. The people leading the class sound like entrepreneurs, not teachers or social workers. People in the social services are trained to deal with the uneducated masses. Business people generally aren't.

Besides, part of the problem is that poor people don't want to look poor or ignorant, so they avoid the class in the first place. They avoid it because they've had bad experiences in similar circumstances. So even if your teachers could explain things to them, the poor don't know that in advance. Avoiding a situation that's likely to be traumatic is a rational response to life.

>> It reflected the population of /Hawthorne/. Lawndale. Compton. Inglewood. Of the people who live in those neighborhoods, mainly whites and Asians showed up, was her point. <<

I'm not sure Hawthorne or Lawndale are more black than average. But let's suppose they are. Maybe notices for the class don't reach many black people. Because they're too poor to be on the right mailing lists, to buy newspapers, etc.

>> Her father and younger brother, who she barely knows, have AIDS! The man who raised her is an alcoholic in a trailer park! He's raising his grandson because the child's mother is in jail and the father is a drug addict who abandoned him and is now in jail himself -- that's who we went to visit last weekend. <<

Great. So how many of these people were at your entrepreneurial class?

>> Again, my knowledge of poverty is /firsthand/ -- yours seems to have been culled from books. <<

Yes, and books are generally a better source of information than anyone's personal knowledge. That's why our culture generally transmits knowledge through books rather than through stories passed down from person to person.

But you seem to have forgotten the point I was making. How many AIDS patients were at your seminar? How many alcoholics were there? How many people whose parents are drug addicts or in jail? Give me a rough number for each of these categories. Because these people have obstacles to overcome that you and your average white or Asian person don't have.

>> That poor people are any different in terms of drive or motivation is patently absurd.

What can I say? If that's what you believe, good for you, but you're giving many of them a lot more credit than they deserve. <<

Unlike you, I don't go by personal beliefs or biases. I believe what the evidence tells me to believe.

>> Which is exactly what many poor people are doing, or trying to do, despite the many structural barriers in their way.

More are not. <<

There you go with another patently absurd statement. You know what the majority of poor people are doing based on your personal experiences? You've met all 40 or 50 million of them?!

No, of course not. "Book knowledge" such as government statistics and social-science studies are a much better source of information about millions of people than your personal experiences are. They're the only source that can encapsulate the experience of millions.

>> Again, Rob, I can easily say this about you and the poor (it is what I believe deep down -- I really believe your knowledge of poverty is totally based on reading <<

My parents came from lower-middle class backgrounds. But yes...my knowledge is mostly based on reading. Reading the stories told by poor people themselves, that is.

So what? You think poor people are more honest in person than they are in writing? If I read of a thousand poor people who describe the structural barriers they face, and you know 50 or 100 poor people who don't face structural barriers, what makes your knowledge better than mine? Answer: Nothing. Unless you can prove people lie in writing when they don't in person, my knowledge is many times better than yours.

And the above thought experiment assumes you're seeing things accurately, not filtering them through your biases, which I highly doubt. Reading reports from multiple sources is the best guarantee you have of not falling prey to any one person's biases—including your own.

>> The thing is, I won't gain anything by convincing you otherwise, I'm just warning you that you're barking up the wrong tree the wrong way. <<

You won't convince me of anything by using your biased personal experiences as "evidence," to be sure.

Christine is among the many who have experience with the poor, which is why I rely on the expertise of people like her. She told you in no uncertain terms that you don't know what the hell you're talking about. Her experiences tally with those of other experts whose narratives I've read, which is why I believe them. The preponderance of the evidence (not your personal beliefs) supports my position.

I asked my girlfriend about this question. She grew up near poor neighborhoods in New Orleans. Now she's a teacher who has seen tens of thousands of poor Latino kids in her school. Her answer about whether poor people are more slovenly than average: "Absolutely not."

So based on your idiotic "personal experience" standard, two people whom I respect say you're wrong and you say you're right. You lose the "personal experience" battle, 2-1. And these two are two of the thousands whose experiences agree with my position—who have reported that poor people are no more slovenly than average.

That's why I have to laugh when you denounce "book knowledge." You seem oblivious to the fact that most books are written by someone with personal knowledge of the subject. So "book knowledge" is based on the cumulative experiences of many, many people. And many experiences outweigh your experiences by a landslide.

>> If it makes you feel better, good for you, though. <<

It makes me feel better that my position is the same as the experts' position, yes. But my feelings are irrelevant to the existence of the evidence supporting my position. The evidence is what it is regardless of how you or I feel about it.

So how many poor people do you personally know who are dirty slobs? How many do you know who have quit jobs to go on welfare? Give me a rough number for each category, since you think so highly of your personal experiences. I trust your numbers will be in the hundreds or thousands, since even a random sample must be that large to be valid.

More on welfare recipients
>> Sure. They're unemployed. They'd quit a job in a minute -- no, they /brag/ about it. Many would rather collect a social service. <<

"Many"? You mean many of the few dozen poor people you know? What about the millions of poor people you don't know?

For more information on the myth of the "welfare queen," which you obviously believe, see:

Debunking the Myth of the Welfare Queen

Myth: There Are Welfare Queens Driving Welfare Cadillacs

Myth of the Welfare Queen—Column

The Permanently Poor

>> Most disgusting thing in Inglewood these days: food stamp /adverstising/. <<

If people trade food stamps for money, it doesn't necessarily mean they're well-off. People may need stamp-trading services just like they need check-cashing services—to convert paper into cash.

Why do people go to check-cashing vendors rather than to a bank? Because they're intimidated or they're busy or it's convenient.

>> On the radio, and on every billboard on every block. Why? <<

Are you sure you're not exaggerating? Not biased even a little?

Take a picture of one of these billboards and e-mail it to me. I've driven through plenty of poor neighborhoods and I've never seen such a thing.

>> Every vocational and community college in Los Angeles offers almost unlimited financial aid to become an MA or a nurse. <<

What percentage of poor people have the time and energy? Not to mention the necessary intelligence and math/science preparation. If it's as much as five percent, I'd be surprised.

I'm guessing you're wrong about the "unlimited financial aid" available. Community colleges have suffered enormous cutbacks the last few years. As the following articles explain:

From an unknown source:

As many as 90,000 students have dropped out of or failed to enroll in California community colleges because of cost-saving class cutbacks, a new report concludes.

From California Crises Take a Heavy Toll on Community Colleges in the Wall Street Journal Online, 8/28/03:

Among the hardest hit have been the state's community colleges, which many low-income students use as a stepping stone to better jobs and a better life. Many classes are full at these schools, others have been canceled, and enrollment fees have rocketed 64% higher, threatening to lock out many poor students.

From Redefining 'Open Access' in the Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/5/03:

Such cutbacks often hurt the neediest students most. When classes are full, presidents usually cap enrollments as a first response, and the students who manage to gain admittance are often simply those best able to understand and negotiate the system. Such students are also, more often than not, affluent. Meanwhile, growing numbers of minority, lower-income, and immigrant students are finding themselves shut out. For example, this year California community colleges may turn away 20,000 black and Hispanic students.

>> Okay. (What can I say to that? Rob, you're basing your opinions on things you've read, not that you've experienced! <<

You haven't experienced what millions of poor people have experienced any more than I have. You've experienced what a few dozen poor people have experienced, at most. I've read the experiences of real poor people, and heard the experiences of people who have been poor or who have worked with the poor. That's a hundred or a thousand times more information than you have.

>> She quickly informed me that the poor take advantage of white Liberal guilt. <<

Given how many ignorant things your girlfriend has said or done, she has zero credibility with me. Give me some facts and evidence, not her personal biases filtered through your personal biases.

Working hard = escaping poverty?
>> Not all poor people are this way, of course, but those who are not tend to escape poverty. <<

Everyone will admit that a few people are gaming the system. The question is what percent of the poor fall into this category. You say it's the majority, even though you've only met a tiny minority of them. This amounts to wishful thinking on your part. You fantasize that you can extrapolate from a few people to the whole because you don't understand how statistics work.

Since you're basing your opinion on only your personal experiences with this tiny minority, you're literally ignorant of how the vast majority of poor people operate. I'm not because I've sought information on them as a whole. A lot of information trumps a little information every time.

>> It's difficult, but it's doable if you /want/ to. <<

Uh-huh, sure. So why aren't you well-off yet? How much longer is it going to take?

>> Most poor people say they want to, but don't truly want to because they never change or try to change their behavior. If you present them with solutions, they make excuses why they can't do it. <<

Spare me this neo-conservative claptrap. It's hilarious to hear you say you can do anything you want when you haven't done anything yet. Why don't you become a movie star or the president of the US or the 13th man on the moon if you think you can overcome any obstacle?

>> And what I always wonder about this is "so what"? <<

Yes, that seems to be your patented answer when you don't understand something.

I already explained how Norway has a higher standard of living than the US. I'm not wasting any more time alleviating your ignorance on the subject.

>> I mean, let's be real -- the US has all the money. <<

I also explained that money can't increase every measure of happiness or standard of living.

>> Poverty in the U.S. is nothing like poverty in, say, India, IMO. <<

Poverty on remote Indian reservations is widely compared to poverty in Third World countries. This poverty is why the US ranks lower than countries like Norway when it comes to their overall standard of living. You think the US is no. 1 because you're ignorant of this poverty, I guess.

The debate continues (12/12/05)....
>> You can teach somebody to fish yourself -- you don't have to pay somebody to do that, #1 <<

Please. I can teach one or two person to fish, maybe, but what if there are 50 million poor people? Do you have a reserve of millions of teachers somewhere?

If you think the average American is going to take time out of his life to help others, you don't understand the selfishness credo you've been preaching. It ain't gonna happen.

Given that fact, how would you try to help those 50 million poor people? Or would you just give up because your simplistic approach offers nothing in the real world?

>> #2, I think Gandhi chose fishing becuz you can make the rod and line out of things found in nature. <<

Right. A long stick? Using what as the string...a vine? And what for the hook...a bit of bone from a chicken?

Uh-huh, sure. What if you live in the desert or on the plains? You could walk hundreds of miles without finding the raw materials for a fishing pole.

And this presupposes that you have the knowledge to put these items together and a pond to fish in. And that your crude contraption will actually work, which I doubt. Really, you've made so many assumptions here that your philosophy is a joke.

Moreover, you didn't address a number of flaws in your flawed philosophy. Here they are again:

People can't fish if they have children to take care of, don't have transportation to the lake, have a disease which makes holding a pole impossible, etc.

>> Extending the analogy into practical terms, everybody has the means to help themselves and / or help others within themselves. <<

I have extended that analogy into practical terms. You haven't because you've swallowed it hook, line, and sinker without thinking about it.

Now that I've helped you think about it, perhaps you'll realize why many poor are faced with obstacles beyond their control. They can help themselves to some degree, but they also need help from society.

Even in your thoughtless version, they need at least one person willing to teach them. If no one volunteers to help Bob the AIDS patient or Mary the alcoholic or Ted the schizophrenic, whose fault is it if they remain poor?

Incidentally, I looked up the "teach a man to fish" saying. It apparently comes from an old Chinese proverb that predates Gandhi by a few centuries or millennia. Furthermore, I didn't find any evidence that Gandhi uttered the saying or used it as the basis for his teachings.

Do you have any proof that Gandhi applied this saying in his work? It would be pretty funny if the approach you attributed to Gandhi wasn't his approach at all. It would suggest how divorced you are from the real world of cultural change. You mistakenly thought Gandhi relied on individual initiative when he really employed collective protests and boycotts.

>> It's just a matter of mentally telling yourself you can do it. <<

So tell yourself you want to be a football player, an astronaut, or the president of the US. Then go ahead and make it happen. You think anything is possible with the power of positive thinking, so let's see you prove it.

>> A big part of my problem with modern Democratic Party rhetoric is that it doesn't encourage this -- instead, it takes your viewpoint that helping oneself is impossible, and that we only get places in life with the help of others. <<

A big part of your problem is not understanding what the Democratic Party actually stands for. Find me a Democratic politician or party platform that says what you think it says and then we'll talk. Until then, you're spouting right-wing, talk-radio trash. You're parroting Rush Limbaugh and his ilk rather than thinking for yourself.

>> The impetus to improve one's own situation is on the individual -- waiting for society is not going to help you today. <<

I think you mean the onus, not the impetus. Anyway, you can help yourself while also taking advantage of society's help. No, you shouldn't wait for help, and few poor people do. But you'll get much further with society's help than without it.

The community colleges that you tout are just one example. They're a function of government, son, in case you hadn't heard. They've been bought and paid for by Democrats, primarily, despite Republican opposition.

In fact, the whole "teach a man to fish" proverb is a metaphor for education—duh. Educating people long-term (treating the problem) is better than giving them a short-term handout (treating the symptoms). This is fundamental to the Democratic Party agenda, which is why Democrats have traditionally been the champions of education. They, not Republicans, favor teaching the poor to fish.

To reiterate:

Democratic approach: Teach a man to fish through education and targeted aid (enough to buy a fishing pole, travel to a lake, etc.).

Republican approach: Expect a man to fish without doing anything to facilitate it. If he figures out how to fish on his own, great. If he dies of starvation, too bad. But whatever you do, don't lift a finger to help a poor man help himself. Let him survive or die like any animal in a Darwinian struggle for existence.

All evidence is subjective?
>> That's your criteria, set by you. It's still you that's ultimately deciding whether or not X piece of evidence is worthy of belief or not. <<

There you go with your ridiculous anti-intellectualism again. You apparently believe there's no such thing as rational thought. I cross the street when no cars are coming because that's a rational decision. But you think I'm a chicken who's just following a personal belief—i.e., acting on instinct.

No wonder you have so many problems understanding politics. You're irrational and believe everyone else is too.

>> And yet, their vote is just as good as yours. And yet, there are more of them than there are of you. And yet, no matter how "right" you are, the world is /full/ of them. <<

There may be more average people than intellectual "elites" like me. But the US population is still split roughly evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

>> Galls the Hell out of you, doesn't it? <<

When we lose elections, it does. When we win elections, as we did in November when we kicked Arnold Schwarzenegger's butt and won the two contested governorships, it feels just fine.

>> And the social sciences are based on soft numbers—i.e., statistics, or applied math.

Right, which requires interpretation, like economics. <<

Math and science don't require the same level of interpretation, which is why I mentioned them first. Whether you realize it or not, they embody objective truths.

>> It's all just opinion, at the end of the day -- social sciences are all like this. <<

Opinion based on hard numbers, you mean. If you say employment or the stock market is up when the numbers are down, it doesn't matter what your opinion is. It'll be wrong because it contradicts the facts.

>> I think it's best to focus on what /you/ think it means, and whether or not that knowledge helps you, rather than trying to debate interpretations. <<

You probably think that because you believe only in helping yourself. I'm trying to help other people, so I need to persuade them with arguments that work—that appeal to different people regardless of their beliefs.

A lawyer presents one set of facts to a jury rather than 12 personal appeals. So must someone debating in the public arena. That you don't understand this may be the crux of your problem.

>> So, we're just arguing opinions, which IMO, is just that -- argument. <<

Nope. I'm arguing for more information and you're arguing that all information is the same and therefore worthless.

>> Incredibly, you're arguing that people should remain ignorant rather than become educated. Because that's what relying only on "personal beliefs" amounts to.

No, I'm saying that people should do what benefits them in some way. <<

Well, the benefits of education are clear to everyone except you. People benefit by learning things they didn't know—hence my helpful writings on Indians and multiculturalism.

For instance, if people understood that Arabs weren't all wild-eyed fanatics, we might not have launched the war on Iraq. Then Joe Average's military son or daughter might still be alive.

>> Going back to your viewpoint about the fish (I liked your use of the word "incredibly" above, becuz I was going to say something to the effect of, "incredibly, you're debating Gandhi," but then realized that Gandhi isn't for everybody, which is okay <<

I'd be happy to debate Gandhi or anyone if he were wrong. But I'll bet Gandhi understood the limitations as well as the power of the "fishing" analogy—assuming he ever heard it. He launched protests and boycotts to force the government to change its policies. He did NOT rely on personal initiatives alone.

Besides, you've misunderstood the proverb's message. It does not say, "Let a man make a fishing rod and fend for himself." It explicitly requires someone to help the poor by teaching them.

This is the same outside intervention that Democrats advocate. Bill Clinton signed welform reform into law, so it's now part of mainstream Democratic thought. "Work, not welfare" is how Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (a Democrat) recently characterized it.

In short, whether it's the government or a charity or an individual, someone beyond the poor must help the poor. Someone has to teach them to fish and give them a rod before they can start. Without this help, they (often) cannot help themselves.

Rob's view = People can't help themselves?
>> taking your cynical worldview that you can't help yourself, that your life is hopeless unless somebody helps you out, IMO, ultimately leads to dependency. <<

That isn't my worldview, nor is it the worldview of the Democratic Party. Are you trying to sound stupid and ignorant, or is it just your natural state?

Repeat: "You can help yourself while also taking advantage of society's help."

>> That being the case, I still don't see what you get out of convincing people they're powerless to change their conditions. <<

You don't see it because that's not my position. When you do see and state my position accurately, I'll be sure to let you know.

>> I've never described myself as ignorant. Apathetic, yes, ignorant, no. Dismissive of you, yes, ignorant, no. <<

Luckily, I've done it for you. By my standards, you're ignorant. Sorry, but if the shoe fits, wear it.

>> As I've done with you. Can we call the whole thing off yet? Or do I have to read the book about it first? <<

Whatever you want. You've chosen to be ignorant and there's not much more I can do about it.

>> Nothing you've cited is a fact yet, Rob. It's either a statistic, which is prone to collection errors and biases and subject to interpretation, or a "learned" opinion, which IMO, is just that, an opinion. <<

You're as ignorant about facts as you are about everything else, apparently. For starters, statisticians generally eliminate collection errors and biases through their survey methodologies, which hard mathematics have proven to be effective. If you think most polls and surveys are wrong, you're stupider than I thought.

In addition, the US census is based on an actual count of real people, not a survey using statistics. These numbers are as hard as they get when dealing with hundreds of millions of people.

Moreover, science and technology use statistics all the time. The plane or car or elevator you risk your life on works not because God guaranteed it; it works because people developed a theory and tested it until they were sure enough, based on statistics, that the process would work reliably. They couldn't "prove" it absolutely, but they could assure reasonable people that it was reasonably safe.

So you rely on statistics for your life. You depend on their validity. The only reason you deny them in the social-science area is because you don't like their implications. Thus, you take the anti-intellectual position that there's no such thing as objective reality.

You've clearly come up with a self-fulfilling rationalization for remaining selfish. Things like racism, psychological problems, and barriers to economic advancement don't exist to you because you don't believe in the numbers that prove them. So you go your ignorant way and hope somebody—not you, of course—will teach those poor people to fish. How pathetically sad.

>> Based on how we define these words, the sky is blue and you're biased.

Whatever the Hell that means. <<

Your inability to understand plain English is another of your problems, it seems.

>> You're doing just fine? You're recovering from a disease...you're ending a failed relationship...and you're working a menial job far from your true calling. Which part of that is "fine"?

I'm not working a menial job, first of all, and second of all, agreeing with you will help my girlfriend and I get along and make me healthy? How does /that/ work? <<

You're not doing the work you want to do—which I gather is film production. You didn't address my other points. Again, I'm not responding to your inane follow-up questions, which only distract us from the issue at hand. You made a claim about how your life is "fine" and I refuted it.

>> I'm not sure where to begin with this, so let me start here: why is my girlfriend and her whole family's generations of experiences with poverty less valid than what you've read in books? <<

It's not less "valid," whatever that means, but it's less meaningful when addressing the condition of the poor as a whole. But I've already explained this, so I'm not explaining it again.

>> Why is what some lady who visited poor homes in Native American country more valid than my extended family, who grew up in India, a third world country? <<

Not more valid, perhaps, but more useful when trying to understand the nation's or world's poor. Like my girlfriend, Christine has seen poverty countless times in her day-to-day work, in several cities and states, not merely when she goes home to her "hood." The breadth of her experience is more relevant than the narrowness of yours. Or to generalize, impersonal numbers trump personal anecdotes.

>> Of course. Until I met her I had the same naive views on the poor that you do. From the same sources, interestingly enough. My only knowledge of poverty was through books I'd read or the few times my family would visit relatives who hadn't quite made it yet. I didn't really understand the poor until I became poor, like I said. <<

And yet, based on everything you've said, you still don't understand the poor. How odd.

Calling an ignoramus an ignoramus
>> What do you call someone who won't educate himself to overcome his personal biases? If you have a better word than "ignoramus," I'll be glad to use it instead.

Why do you have to label people who disagree with you? <<

My question wasn't rhetorical, so answer the freakin' question. "What do you call someone who won't educate himself to overcome his personal biases?" You answer my question and then I'll answer yours.

No, I'll give you another freebie. I call a cat a "cat" because it fits the dictionary definition of a cat. Your loaded word "label" means nothing more than a word you don't like, so it doesn't interest me. I use words when they fit whether you like it or not.

And why use words correctly in everyday speech? Because that's the basis of communication. I'm communicating that you sound like an ignoramus. Use this information or not as you see fit.

>> And while you're at it, how is this better than naming a sports team after a Native American tribe? <<

The evidence proves that Indians weren't primarily savages or warriors, so sports mascots are wrong. The evidence has proved that you're an ignoramus, so my "label" is right.

>> Again, not something that sounds particularly liberal.

What, are you kidding me? Fertilization clinics /exist/ becuz of the Liberal viewpoint. <<

I was talking about your girlfriend's having her license suspended or raising money by donating eggs rather than getting a job. I wasn't talking about her abstract support of fertilization clinics, which would indeed be a liberal position.

>> Let's see here... my sister writes grant proposals for not-for-profit organizations for a living; she worked at a community center for undrpriviledged Vietnamese in Chicago to get this job. And oh yeah, my former crush (also African American)'s works for CPS teaching people how to parent their children. <<

A non-profit organization has no necessary connection to the poor. Neither does a class on parenting children. Your anecdotal evidence continues to be weak, IMO.

But if you think that's enough, great. Send these people a copy of my message and have them critique it. As I did with Christine and your message. You're so biased that I don't believe you can channel their beliefs accurately.

In short, I didn't rely on my interpretation of Christine's beliefs, I asked her about them. You should do the same.

>> Again, something tells me I'm still okay in having more faith in my firsthand knowledge of the poor than your textual and anecdotal evidence. <<

Faith tells you to have faith in your faith. Lord, this is the epitome of irrationality. You revel in your self-centered view that everything you've seen trumps the rest of reality. (What you call "textual evidence" is really the collective wisdom of our culture—in other words, the "rest of reality.")

>> It's pride, Rob. It's not rational. COMMON SENSE is to do whatever will improve your conditions. <<

Talk about your personal beliefs. I'm not debating your opinion of what constitutes common sense. If you don't have any facts or evidence to back up your position, give it up.

>> My girlfriend uses this same bullshit argument not to ask for help with things. You're more concerned with being embarrassed than genuinely improving your life. It's pitiful. <<

It's pitiful that you don't recognize psychological barriers any more than you recognize physical ones. According to you, millions of people diagnosed with mental illnesses have no problem. They should just pick up that fishing rod and fish.

>> Because they're too poor to be on the right mailing lists, to buy newspapers, etc.

Why is this more likely than they just plain don't go to the public library (which is how we found out about it) for anything other than the Internet and renting movies, and can't read well anyway, and are afraid besides, so they just don't care? <<

The barriers I listed exist. You think they don't exist and I've explained the reality to you. How prevalent these barriers are is something we can discuss after you concede they exist.

>> Again, you're presupposing the nobility of the poor. You refuse to admit the most obvious answer: they don't care. Why? IMO, becuz they're scared and lazy. <<

I'm not presupposing anything. I'm supposing what the facts and evidence tell me to suppose. You're not; you're inventing theories based on your unrepresentative personal experiences. These may be valid for you but they aren't for millions of poor people.

What percent of the poor prefer poverty?
I admit some poor people don't care. I've never said they all need society's help. The question is how many of them don't care—what percentage.

You say it's 100%, which shows your ignorance of the poor. I say it's some small percentage—certainly less than half. Every piece of evidence I've seen backs me up.

>> NONE. That's how I ended up with my girlfriend -- she /knows/ the poor, and knew that she didn't want to end up like them, so works to get herself out of her situation. <<

So you concede my point. Good, we're finally making progress.

In case you forgot the point, here it is again. People such as the ones you listed

"Her father and younger brother, who she barely knows, have AIDS! The man who raised her is an alcoholic in a trailer park! He's raising his grandson because the child's mother is in jail and the father is a drug addict who abandoned him and is now in jail himself -- that's who we went to visit last weekend."

face barriers to economic advancement. These barriers have little to do with whether people are too proud to admit they need help or too lazy to get help. Regardless of your state of mind, you can't escape AIDS or jail. These are factors beyond your control. You can take steps to ameliorate them, but you can't make them go away.

>> Rob, please don't make me argue book smart v. street smart. <<

Why not? What's there to be afraid of? My whipping your ass on yet another topic? We're already arguing it and you're already losing the argument.

>> As a book smart person, I really hate having to argue against myself, but for what it's worth, IMO, street smart is better. <<

You're not book-smart, as far as I can tell. And "street smart" is better only in certain situations, such as surviving on the street. When debating national policy, it's next to worthless.

That's why the book-smart people lead our society. They get advanced degrees (all those MBAs and lawyers) or study manuals in their garages (Bill Gates). For every street-smart person among the political and economic elite, there must be a hundred who are book-smart.

>> Where did these obstacles come from, Rob? Society? Bad parenting? Let's say that they did <<

Okay, let's say.

>> how does wallowing in their obstacles, and worse, being told by people like you, who should know better, that doing so is okay, improve their situation? What do they gain by that? <<

I've never said they should "wallow in their obstacles" or that doing so is okay. So I don't need to answer your second question. Your questions are invalid because you don't understand my position.

>> 1) Again, social science statistics are subject to interpretation. <<

So are personal experiences. You've clearly (mis)interpreted your experiences with the poor because they don't gibe with the facts and evidence.

>> 2) How am I, the individual, going to help "millions"? What do they have to do with me? <<

Educate yourself and vote intelligently. And reread the poem by John Donne.

>> Great. Conversation over. <<

It doesn't seem to be over. But if you don't want to keep losing the argument, stop arguing. I don't mind proving your ignorance if you don't mind having it proved to you.

>> So how many poor people do you personally know who are dirty slobs? How many do you know who have quit jobs to go on welfare? Give me a rough number for each category, since you think so highly of your personal experiences. I trust your numbers will be in the hundreds or thousands, since even a random sample must be that large to be valid.

Nope. Just the population of my neighborhood, and every other poor neighborhood I've been to. <<

Well, you tried hard to dodge a direct question, but I still gleaned your answer. You couldn't admit to knowing at least a hundred poor people, so your knowledge ends at 99. Meanwhile, I suspect my girlfriend and Christine encounter 99 poor people every day.

That's how informing yourself works. They know more poor people than you do, so their knowledge of the poor is superior. Your "interpretations" of your neighbors may be valid—though I think they're biased—but they're not representative of the whole.

>> And in my world, my block is what matters. <<


>> Don't believe that? <<

I believe it. I've told you you have a credo of selfishness and you've admitted it. After I correctly label you "selfish," what more do we need to say?

>> Ask the gang-banging poor you defend. They'll /kill/ you over their block, and brag about it. Yes, these are the people we as a society should be celebrating. <<

I haven't defended poverty-stricken individuals. But the fact that you equate the poor with gang-bangers is telling. Thanks for demonstrating how biased you are.

Now tell me how your inner-city experiences are relevant to all the poor who don't live where you do—who don't engage in gang-banging or other forms of violence. Oh, wait...your biased experiences aren't relevant to them at all, are they? What a surprise.


More on Barbara Ehrenreich's books
>> This is such a typical spoiled American sentiment, it makes me laugh. <<

Ehrenreich has worked in corporations for many years. You haven't. Her personal experiences outweigh yours by a factor of five or six to one.

If you believe in personal experiences, you should bow to her superior knowledge. Otherwise you're a hypocrite who believe whatever he believes whether he's had more personal experiences or not. Which is enough to make me laugh.

>> What I also wonder is what this author would suggest you do if you're poor. <<

In her previous book, Ehrenreich spent months living the lifestyle of the working poor and documenting its hardships. She knows it from personal experience.

>> Like whenever I read things like this, I notice that they can tell you in a second why you /can't/ do something, and what the /problems/ are, but I never hear any kind of real solution. <<

Read her book Nickel and Dimed if you want to hear her solutions. Don't bray proudly about how you don't read books and then blame her for your ignorance.

>> They're sort of saying "reform the government," but that takes /forever/. <<

It takes forever when your boy Bush is trying to flush government down the drain rather than reform it.

>> It's a trickle down way of looking at things. For an individual living in this society now, waiting for the Left to successfully lobby the government on their behalf is a really passive and bleak way of approaching life <<

Which is why no one does that. You clearly have no "personal experiences" with the so-called Left, judging by your ignorance of us. No one who's poor and liberal waits around for someone to reform the government while he or she suffers. They get educated, take jobs, and run their lives as best as they can while hoping the politicians will act.

What's your personal experience with Latino farm workers, Mr. Know-It-All? These people are renowned for doing back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk, and they tend to vote Democratic. Why don't you go pick cotton for a day or two and then tell me how they're all welfare cheats?

Why don't you meet as many parents of Latino kids as my girlfriend the teacher has? Find out how many of them are welfare cheats and how many are maids, waiters, nannies, janitors, gardeners, day laborers, construction workers, etc. Find out how many sit around at home and how many work 12 or 16 hours a day to make ends meet.

Let me know when your experience with Latinos matches my girlfriend's experience with them.

>> I'm hoping you're telling them there's something they can do to improve their plight, and I'm /really/ hoping it's not activism <<

I'm not preaching any particular solution in my comics because they exist to entertain, not to educate.

>> becuz again, activism is "get the gov't. to change" as a solution, which again, takes /forever/ and may not happen. <<

I've sent you several articles on how Indians are taking charge of and diversifying their economies. Either read them and learn or don't and remain ignorant, but I've already given you an answer.

>> See again, how does roasting a major corporation help you pay the bills? <<

Ehrenreich pays her bills by writing critiques of our culture. The information in her books may help someone choose a career more wisely and earn more money because of it.

You don't read books to pay bills that are due today or tomorrow, doofus. Are you really this dimwitted about the purpose of education?

FYI, education's benefits are generally long-term, not short-term. You don't pay bills by going to four years of college, but you ultimately gain a lifetime of increased earnings.

>> What's easier to change, yourself or the world? And isn't it narcissistic to expect the world to change to suit you? <<

Yourself, probably, in general. But it's smarter to try changing both rather than relying only on changing yourself. The more solutions you can implement, the better your chances are.

>> So what do you do, kill yourself if you're not in public office? <<

No. You do what you can at the personal and the political level.

>> See again, I really don't see what's to be gained by bashing people's personal beliefs like this. <<

You're bashing my beliefs because you wrongly think book knowledge is inferior to personal knowledge. How do you explain that hypocrisy?


>> The thing is, would I do more good by helping someone I know better manage his / her finances to avoid having to declare, or by lobbying the government to change the law back, knowing that this might take forever, if it happens at all? <<

If you're a good money manager, the former. If you're a good lobbyist, the latter. As a group of people with diverse skills, we have the resources to do both. Your "choice" is a false one because we can do several things simultaneously.

>> What do you gain by bashing America and telling the poor that the system is designed to screw them? <<

I don't bash America, I criticize its shortcomings. And what do I gain by doing that? I increase the following of progressive candidates and causes and thus gain the power to change things.

>> Isn't that demotivation to do /anything/ except pity oneself? <<

No, it's a call to action. Anyone who cares about future generations of Americans will seek long-term change rather than stuff their wallets.

>> How does constantly being told that the system is corrupt and the country sucks help anybody in need? <<

I've explained several times that Democrats such as Kerry have a positive agenda. Quit wasting my time parading your ignorance and learn what that agenda is.

The debate continues (12/9/05)....
>> Why don't you go pick cotton for a day or two and then tell me how they're all welfare cheats?

I didn't say they were welfare cheats <<

One, I didn't say you said it. But you sure implied it.

Two, you ducked the question—no surprise there. Let's repeat the point and see if you can address it this time:

What's your personal experience with Latino farm workers, Mr. Know-It-All? These people are renowned for doing back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk, AND they tend to vote Democratic. Why don't you go pick cotton for a day or two and then tell me how they're all welfare cheats?

>> As for Latino parents, who do you think we live with? Who do you think my girlfriend's daughter's friends are? Shit, my girl's daughter's "stepmother" (they're not married) who's pregnant with what will be her little brother, is Mexican, illegal -- the whole nine. My cousin is an immigration attorney. <<

So what does that amount to...about ten Latinos? Whoopee. Not very impressive compared to my girlfriend's exposure to thousands of Latino students a day.

>> Again, I really take all of your arguments for what they are -- an attempt to "win" something that I haven't quite figured out yet. <<

That's funny...that's what I take your arguments for. You have no facts or evidence on your side, so you tout your personal experiences as if they're everything. Meanwhile, you belittle the experiences and expertise of everyone other than yourself. You know the poor better than everyone so you, and only you, can assert what they're like.

>> No, it's well known, poor Mexicans work hard. I never denied that. <<

Sure you did. You've claimed that the poor—including poor, hard-working Mexicans—are responsible for their own poverty.

If you meant to exclude poor, hard-working Mexicans in your blanket statements, you didn't. Oops. Maybe now you'll revise your statements about the poor based on your limited "personal experiences."

If you think Mexicans work hard, why are so many of them still poor? Isn't hard work the ticket out of poverty? They aren't sitting around complaining or waiting for a handout, so why are they poor?

>> They rarely educate their way out of the ghetto, though, and generations of their families live the same way. That's a choice. <<

"Rarely"? Another ignorant statement. Fact is, Latinos are well-known for being upwardly mobile—for integrating into the American mainstream after a generation or two. That means they do it frequently, not "rarely."

>> Those that don't, more times than not, are content in their misery, in my experience. <<

They're not content in their misery, in my experience and the experience of everyone I've talked to and read of. I mean, everyone except neoconservative ideologues like you who blame the victims for their problems.

>> I've sent you several articles on how Indians are taking charge of and diversifying their economies. Either read them and learn or don't and remain ignorant, but I've already given you an answer.

And I've supported all of those people. None of them, I noticed, were complaining about their conditions -- rather, they were talking about what they did to improve the situation to encourage others to do the same. <<

Wrong. The same Indians who are helping their tribes by diversifying their economies are also protesting past and present injustices. Consider your new idol Deron Marquez, for one. For every deal he's made, he's probably written an article or given a speech "complaining about"—i.e., protesting and advocating against—a political or social problem.

>> You don't read books to pay bills that are due today or tomorrow, doofus.

Then why in the name of God would I read this crap? <<

To educate yourself. But I forget...you don't understand the concept of education. Never mind.

* More opinions *
  Join our Native/pop culture blog and comment
  Sign up to receive our FREE newsletter via e-mail
  See the latest Native American stereotypes in the media
  Political and social developments ripped from the headlines

. . .

Home | Contents | Photos | News | Reviews | Store | Forum | ICI | Educators | Fans | Contests | Help | FAQ | Info

All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

Copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act,
which allows copying for nonprofit educational uses including criticism and commentary.

Comments sent to the publisher become the property of Blue Corn Comics
and may be used in other postings without permission.