Shaming the Poor

One of the things that I’ve come to expect whenever I write about poverty here in the US is that there will inevitably be people in the comment threads who are under the impression that the best thing to do with the poor, if we must be obliged not to let them starve, is to larder the assistance we provide them with an additional heaping helping of shame; the idea being that social opprobation of their condition will inspire them to be poor no longer. It popped up again in yesterday’s comments about the kids who pass up on lunch rather than let it be seen that they get free lunch.

Needless to say, I think this is a position that is pretty damn stupid to hold, and here are some of the various reasons why.

1. It’s not like poor people — particularly poor children — aren’t made to feel quite enough shame already. Indeed, the whole point of the article yesterday is that kids would rather go hungry (and in doing so, jeopardize their futures because it’s harder to concentrate on your classes when you are concentrating on the fact your stomach is empty) than to be identified as qualifying for a free lunch. They already know they’re being judged, thanks much. And the hoops society makes the poor jump through for assistance add more shame, albeit in a largely unintentional way. Adding another official, intentional layer of shame isn’t going to help.

2. In the case of children in poverty, their being poor is generally not their fault. Shaming the children of poor people for daring to receive a free lunch is tantamount to saying to them, well, if you had been smart, you wouldn’t have been born to poor people in the first place. And, you know. That sort of thinking makes you an asshole. Even if one were to cede there was any sort of benefit to shaming people in poverty, there’s not much benefit in shaming children, whose ability either to understand or control the role of poverty in their lives is limited.

3. Shaming people for their poverty generally assumes that the only reason for poverty is that people are poor for reasons they can be shamed out of — i.e., poor people are poor because they are lazy and shiftless no good spongers who prefer to be poor, because really, it’s just less work. This is a nice little fantasy, which like most fantasies sort of falls apart when it meets up with the real world. People are poor and sometimes become poor for lots of reasons. The number of poor who are poor because they like it is, as anyone who thinks about it for more than half a minute may imagine, rather small. Most people would prefer not to be poor, as it happens, and would be willing to work to escape it.

4. Shaming as a motivational technique to get people out of poverty is a bit like torturing as a motivational technique to get people to tell you something: It works better in fiction than it does in real life. Shaming, like torture, appeals to some minds because it feels like a tough, no-bullshit approach to dealing with something, and everybody’s seen it work in movies, so it’s got to work in real life. But the reason that shame (and torture) work in the movies is that someone’s writing a script; the real word is unscripted. In the real world, attempting to shame people for their poverty isn’t going to motivate them much, what it’s going to do is create resentment. And quite properly so, because per points 1-3 here, in the real world poverty isn’t a single-cause, socially acceptable condition.

Which is not to say on occasion shaming might not work on a particular individual, but I think you’d have to look at what the end result there would be. You know, the people who claim to have been poor at some point in their lives and who advocate shame as a useful tool for dealing with poverty come across as people who themselves were shamed about their poverty. These folks have indeed appeared to learn a lesson from the shaming, but what the lesson seems to be is that they should look at those who are poor now with contempt, and say fuck you, I got mine. I don’t think that’s a particularly good lesson.

In the science fiction world, among writers and fans, there’s an idea, popularized by Robert Heinlein: “Pay it Forward.” Which is to say, you help those who need help, as you can help them, without expectation of personal recompense; what you hope for, and what you expect, is that when those you were able to help prosper, that they will help along the next guy. I’m pretty sure that when Heinlein helped out his fellow writers, he didn’t go out of his way to make them feel ashamed that he reached down to help pull them up. That would defeat the purpose of doing it at all.

“Pay it Forward” of course has many antecedents, including both the Golden Rule and the idea of reaping what you sow and, to my mind, the Sermon on the Mount as well. In none of these, it should be noted, is the idea of shame as a useful motivator. There’s a good reason for that, although I will leave it to others to deduce what that might be.

However, I will say this. When I was poor, there were people who tried to shame me for it, and people who tried to help me out of it. The names and faces of those who helped me spring to mind without bidding; they are the people whose kindness and generosity let me see how good people can be, and how I should try to be when it was my turn to help, through personal action and through my influence on my government, and how it uses what I pay into it. The names and faces of those who tried to shame me? Gone from me, save for the memory of the smallness of their being, and the poverty of their understanding of how to treat others. I was inspired to lift myself out of poverty, not shamed into doing so.

When we help those in poverty, the way to look at it — the way I look at it — is that we’re paying it forward. Those I’m helping now will be those who will help others. I know this because I was helped myself. I’m not interested in adding shame to the mix; what I am interested in is adding the idea of responsibility to help those who need help, as you have been helped yourself. You won’t get that through shame.

I’ve come to expect the people who see shame as useful every time I talk about poverty, but I never stop being amazed that they can’t seem to understand why it won’t work. All one can do is hope they never have to reap what they’re attempting to sow.

174 thoughts on “Shaming the Poor

  1. In junior high, I got free lunches because of my family income level. But the way they did it there didn’t cause me to feel any shame or embarrassment at all. We worked in the cafeteria. We were released from the period before lunch about 10 minutes early, and we went to the cafeteria to get ready. We doled out the lunches to those in line, or took dirty trays and dishes to the kitchen, then after everyone else left we ate, and were allowed unlimited seconds. I didn’t even know it was a poverty program for over a year. The only comment I ever heard from another student was that I was lucky to get out of class early and eat all the lunch I wanted (which at that age can be a lot).

  2. People who believe that shame is a good motivator for getting out of poverty also seem to believe that shame is also an excellent sex-ed technique. Shame will end teenage pregnancy and STDs. Or something.

  3. (Parenthetically, will the concept of “pay it forward” ever erase the stain of that terrible, terrible Kevin Spacey movie? I swear, it’s like Hollywood secretly hates people who aren’t coke-addled assholes… oh wait, right…)

  4. Just because people have less, does not mean they are less.

    I have been fortunate – I had the ability (and was in the right place at the right time sometimes) and worked hard, and managed to move from a dirt-poor background into a reasonably comfortable (far from rich) one (OK, it took me 30 years, but hey, I eventually got there).

    I was lucky – others in the same starting position as me did not do as well; that did not mean they were feckless, idle, or work-shy – it just didn’t work out for them.

    We are here (imho) to help others, if we can; if not, what are we here for?

  5. I usually agree with what you say but I think ”
    Unexpected consequences” had a good point earlier.

    He explained if we don’t shame the poor they will have no motivation to improve themselves and it might lead to (sorry for swearing) socialism/communism.

    I can finally understand why all the Republicans advocate re-instating the inheritance tax with no exemptions and at 100%. Yeah, they want to make sure their own kids grow up poor and ashamed so they will also have motivation. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

    What? Do as I say not as I do? Double standard?

    Well, see, I think Skinner demonstrated clearly that the rich are motivated by positive feedback and the poor are motivated by negative feedback. Didn’t he?

    Out of charity I’ll assume “Unexpected Consequences” is a College Republican. He might be an ignorant sucker who can’t get a date but there is at least a chance he’ll learn something in the future.

    Am I being mean and personal? Yeah, I admit it. I’m old enough now that I don’t have the patience you and others have to explain things clearly. I’m simply using the same technique “Unexpected Consequences” advocates back at him. Hey, if shame is so effective I’m sure he can take it as well as dish it out.

  6. JJS:

    I still think you shouldn’t have been made to work for your food: you should have been made to stay in class until it was over and not loose 10m of class every day.

    Just my opinion.

  7. Tripp:

    I think you can make your points without attacking someone with a “you can’t get dates” sort of accusation, and I hope you will going forward.

  8. That sort of thinking makes you an asshole.

    I don’t have anything to add, really. I just thought that particular sentence bore repeating.

  9. I grew up as the child of a military enlisted man. We rarely had enough good food at home, there just wasn’t money for it. My mom worked the school lunch serving line and I got assistance – and the teasing that came with it. I didn’t understand back then why my dad could be in Vietnam again being asked to possibly sacrifice his life, while we would count days to payday so that we could get something to put on our toast.

    Sure I lived and my kids don’t have those concerns. But that doesn’t mean everyone gets through it the same.

    Because of the anecdotal cases of people succeeding in life despite their impoverished childhoods, many people feel free to blame the poor for their condition. If one person can make it, then all can, they believe. It’s a license to be cruel.

    Most people don’t make upward class movement and it’s not related to their desire to escape poverty – it’s more a factor of education and opportunity.

  10. I find it appalling that anyone would think the poor choose to be poor. Granted, there are those who do choose to be on food stamps and aide rather than working for a living, but most of those in poverty don’t want to be there.

    My family is poor. We’ve struggled with poverty as long as i can remember. When I was a teenager, I decided I was going to do whatever I could to get out of it, short of selling my body or drugs or do something else illegal. I went to college and got a Bachelor’s. I moved to an area where there were jobs. For three years I worked as a substitute teacher and tried to get hired full time. You know what I got? Nothing except a pat on the head. My husband works his butt off despite not having a degree (and his disabilities, found far too late, have made it impossible for him to go back to school unless we pay for it our of pocket), and can still barely make enough money to cover rent and utilities. We’re constantly having to call just to keep the lights and heat on one more week. We don’t choose to be here. We’re frustrated as hell by it, especially since we’ve done all the “right” things to get out of it.

    And now it’s even harder because, for various reasons, I can’t work. I have to be home for my disabled son. I don’t mind this, and I am blessed with a husband who not only doesn’t make me feel guilty about it but also sees the necessity of it. Knowing we’ve done everything we can to get out of the hole we’re in, knowing that the current choices we’ve made are the ONLY choices we could have made, doesn’t help. I still kick myself for being here. And I don’t understand why I can do all the “right” things and still end up where I am while people around me are doing so much better.

    I didn’t choose to be here. Making me feel any worse than I do about it isn’t going to get me any more motivated to not be poor. I already feel bad enough when I think about my kids being raised in poverty. And I can’t help but wonder what is wrong with me that I can’t make things better no matter what I do (short of the illegal, obviously). Trust me, I make myself feel more than bad enough…and it still doesn’t help.

    And, btw, this is part of the reason that a lot of the programs that have been put in place to “help” the poor fail. One, they make the poor feel like idiots who couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag. Two, they come with so many regulations/limitations it’s ridiculous. My husband went through this job program in Cali and he managed to find a job, he accepted it, and then they got pissed at him for accepting it without talking to them first. It even paid more than minimum wage, but they were mad because they were supposed to help pay for uniforms and they didn’t want to. They would have rather had him jump through more hoops, put out more applications, and find a minimum wage nonsense job that didn’t require them to pay for uniforms. He stuck to his guns, and they did pay, but not without a great deal of grief from the program. As for me, I was in school–and they had a set list of “acceptable” majors that I was allowed to be in. Then there’s things like time limits. Honestly, if I could have gotten out of poverty in 5 years, I would have, but telling me I won’t get an aide any more after 5 years isn’t going to get me out of poverty if jobs that pay a decent (not a minimum) wage aren’t available.

    *takes a deep breath*

    Sorry. Big peeve of mine. Some of the poor can be blamed for their poverty, it is true, but the majority of us would rather be working good jobs that pay the bills and take are of our families. We’re tired and frustrated, but we don’t have any political clout to get things to change because we can’t contribute to campaigns. We’ve got to use that money to try to feed, clothe, and house our kids.

  11. I doubt the shamers really think it will work. There’s a mentality that really revels in hateful behavior, but needs there to be an excuse to attack. So they find somebody who “deserves” it and cut loose. You see it in everything from fringe activism to domestic violence. Blaming the victim also nicely shifts responsibility away; hey, if they wanted me to stop, all they had to do was change (not be poor, stop wearing short skirts, give up cutting down trees, whatever) and I’d have stopped. Since they won’t, I really have no choice but to keep it up, because what I’m doing is actively discouraging their bad behavior.

    That, I think, is the real reason you get formerly poor people indulging in shaming. They’re enjoying being on top, and what better way to show you’re on top than crapping on the people under you?

  12. I agree with the post whole heartedly. I find it particularly nasty when those who limit access water for a group of people and then are disgusted by them because they are dirty.

  13. There is more than enough shame heaped on the poor without our government piling on. This is specially true of kids who had no say about which family they were born into. Add humiliating children to the list of things I don’t want my taxes funding.

  14. I’m not into the shame game either… yet I think the pay-it-forward concept is fine for individuals, just not for my government.

    Why have churches and charities failed so badly that we expect government to dole out every social service? Or are we forcing charity via taxation?

    It’s really not part of our founding concept of our country. We seem to have a too strong sense of entitlement.

  15. I’m reminded of a discussion I had with one of our consultants from India. He was telling me about how those Indians already in the US pool their money to help others coming here get started. That money goes towards opening a franchise of some sort (7-Eleven, Dunkin Donuts — all the clichés you can think of) and training on how to make it successful. Those helped are expected to pay back this loan and add some of their own money down the line to keep it going.

    He suggested this as a way for Americans to help one another escape poverty (he was specifically talking about African-Americans, but the point could be made of any group). It sounds great in concept — a sort of capitalist spin on communist idealism. Not sure it would work on a large scale, but still a nice idea…

  16. I think a lot of people in ‘The West’ are really sheltered and take a lot of things for granted.

    Where I come from, intelligence, good judgement, diligence, and a whole host of other virtues don’t guarantee an escape from poverty. Unless you’re dense, you realise that your good fortune has much less to do with you than you’d like to believe. Because of that, we generally try to treat everyone with respect and grace.

  17. JLR, I don’t know which government you’re under. But if it’s the US, it’s pretty funny that we call it a “social service/charity” when money goes to feed a poor kid, but a “tax break” or “economic stimulus” when it goes to float a corporation or help a wealthy family pay for their mortgage.

    Which is to say, this isn’t really the thread for a Libertarian rant about all taxes being theft; therefore your post is rather pointless, as at best you’re making an argument that it’s OK to have a government handout as long as it isn’t going to do something a homeless shelter or food bank would do.

    I just can’t get worked up about the idea that some of my hard-earned tax dollars are going to make sure some little kid eats lunch tomorrow. You?

  18. “It’s really not part of our founding concept of our country.”

    Exactly what do you think our government is supposed to be for, if not helping its citizens? “By the people, of the people, for the people” ring any bells?

  19. There is a very fine line between the true idea that hard work, positive attitude and perseverance are the best ways to improve your position and blaming the poor for not always working hard, showing a positive attitude and having perseverance.

    Knowing what you have to do doesn’t make it easy. We all know that eating less crap and getting more exercise will keep the fat at bay, yet statistically, most of us are fatter than we should be. That includes lots of people who congratulate the success they’ve found in life, having been born in securely middle class circumstances.

    The bottom line is that some people are dealt worse hands than others, and you have to play the hand you’re dealt. We shouldn’t blame the guy who got sixes and fours because he couldn’t take the pot from the guy with two kings and if we don’t want to be the world a place where what we have is luck, perhaps we should be helping the guy with the crappy hand. None of this changes the basic fact that no one will help you as much as you and that your best play is to work your hand for all it is worth.

    I think it is very important not to throw out the idea that you can pull yourself out of poverty through hard work because if you do, you create a class of hopeless and dependent people who will never get anywhere. Instead, we need to stay centered on that in the race of life, some of us are born fifty feet from the finish line while others start five miles back with fifty pound packs. And to torture this analogy further, we need to ask whether it is better to push such people ten feet, or take their packs off. Calling them losers is just cruelty.

  20. Actually, sburnap, your “keep the fat at bay” line is an excellent example of the crabbed thinking that is applied to the poor.

    Yes, eating healthy and exercising is a good way to stay healthy and avoid piling on excess weight. It does not follow that eating less crap and exercising *will* keep the fat at bay. It does not follow that everybody has the same ability to buy (much less eat) less crap and to exercise. It avoids discussing any uncomfortable truths about how we distribute food, or how the rich have more time and ability to exercise. It certainly shuts down all consideration of body size being a class marker.

    Cards are also a very bad analogy. Card-dealing is random. Not too many poker games allow Mr. Two Kings to take an extra chip from the pot because he went to an Ivy League school, for example.

    So yes, we should certainly not discourage the poor from trying to get a leg up. But don’t you think poor people would be more willing to try harder if they knew it would get them anywhere? That they’d be happier to climb that ladder knowing that the more fortunate are helping hold it steady, instead of shaking it hard to make sure none of *those* people get up too many rungs?

  21. JLR: You ask if churches have failed in their charitable forays….and I’d kind of have to say, Yes, when your charity is sometimes dependent on being a member of said church or swallowing whatever it is they want to tell you, that charity comes with hooks that I don’t want to catch in my mouth.

    Anyways, it’s not just because of vague moral considerations that the government should be involved in programs to aid the poor. A holistic view of our economy and society will tell you that aiding the poor aids every other level of our society. Education helps everybody and keeps crime rates down. Programs that bring awareness about predatory lending practises directly help the poor. Helping lower income women get birth control means they aren’t strapped to their poverty through unwanted pregnancies that can impact their financial security.

    Furthermore, there are plenty of government policies in place that aid the well-off, as Mythago notes. But we don’t call that “charity”.

    Oh, and this reminds me of this lovely rant: It’s Not Your Money, wherein it’s discussed that those of us who aren’t poor, largely aren’t because of luck and a combination of circumstances. Yes, some of us work hard and have intelligence (another accident of birth) and invest our money wisely (helps if you have some to start with) but so do other people that aren’t as lucky as we are. I know my boyfriend’s mother works hard, has guts, took responsibility for her kids, and this woman is barely keeping her nose above water at times. She works harder than I do, and is less secure financially speaking.

  22. First of all, I echo what No. 1 said: “Amen”. Bootstrapping is a myth. People don’t do get out of poverty alone. Shame just leads to poor self-esteem, depression and possibly self-destructive behavior. No, I don’t think that poor people need a hug and told that they’re loved. I think they need to be treated with respect and dignity like everyone who is not poor. I also think that everyone who is not poor needs to take responsibility for, in some way, alleviating the condition of those who are. It’s not solely the job of government or charities or religions alone either, individuals need to act personally. I’m not going to say how to do that, it’s for each person to decide how they want to do that but that’s what I think. And yes, I’ve received assistance when I needed it (I’ve been treated with shame –like the time the irritated cashier ripped the Food Stamp book from my hands and counted out what I owed (I have a minor in Math and was capable) and with respect and dignity.) I don’t get assistance now and I do pay it forward.

  23. One of the problems facing our country is a large, vocal subsegment of the population who believe that they achieved their success on their own. These people are increasingly unwilling to pay taxes for infrastructure(especially expanding it), public schools or any “social welfare” programs. They say appealing things like “you can spend your money better than the government can” and ignore the fact that their own education was paid for either by public funds or their parents, and that they were supported emotionally during their early years. In Washington state these people are represented by one man who consistantly brings tax-repealling inititives to the ballot, many of which have been unconstitutional(but the courts won’t rule on that until after its been passed into law), but doesn’t have the courage to run for public office. Since it is school levy time we now get to read lots of letters to the editors about how unfair it is to pay taxes for public schools when your kids are no longer attending, or how renter shouldn’t be able to vote on property taxes since they don’t pay them(a big fallacy).

    OK rant done now.

  24. I personally think the government should be less involved in charity… but only because it is inefficient. A local charity can apply most of its money right at the source of the problem. For example, my parents’ church started a weekly food kitchen a quarter-century ago. Almost all of the money goes directly toward the weekly feeding— the money that doesn’t is applied toward associated costs, such as upkeep on appliances and electricity for the room.

    The only thing people need to do to participate is to show up. No means testing, no forced prayer, no nothing. And if someone is ashamed to ask for food, well, all of the volunteers get fed too, and I know that’s a tactic used by many people who are hungry to get aid without seeming to.

    Contrast that with a federal program; each layer of bureaucracy has a cost, so the further away you get from the program the more it costs for less result. Add onto that the fact that standardization is one way to keep costs down, but what works in Michigan might be ill-suited to California, and you’ve got problems.

    There was a book I read several years back that was a study of hunger in America and one of the things that was interesting was that most people who are in need of food assistance either have no idea how to shop cheaply and healthy or they don’t have the ability to store food. Or cook it well. Pasta and parmesan is a very cheap meal, but you need a big pot to cook it, clean water, a place to store the parm that isn’t full of bugs, and so on. I remember one apartment we had that had a non-functional freezer— that certainly affected what we bought at the grocery store. Some places have no safe storage at all, and most food-stretching techniques require at least a little safe storage.

    How much does a secure plastic container cost? Now think on whether that amount might mean the difference between eating two meals or going hungry.

    What would I like? I’d like charity options that are local, focused, and aimed at showing someone who is poor true options, instead of throwing a bunch of paperwork at their heads. What I’m likely to get is some weird hodgepodge of government regulations and departments where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

  25. Ah, more reasons why I’m glad I live in a social democracy. It’s good to occasionally be reminded that for all its racism, inequity and corruption Australia is actually not that bad. At least we have the idea that everyone is entitled to being helped to stay alive, just by virtue of being human. If that means feeding those who are hungry, or healing those who are sick, then such is the lot of the more fortunate. I would rather be rich and taxed than poor and subsidised, thanks all the same.

    My fear is that the US is successfully exporting the things that make it great to be part of the richest 1% of the US to other countries, regardless of the effect on the other 99%. I would rather see the New Zealand ACC system spread globally than the US “pay or die” one, for example.

    http://masspolicy.blogspot.com/2007/11/acc.html for details on ACC

  26. Incidentally, I thought of my family as upper middle class while I was growing up, despite classmates as evidence to the contrary. We ate pretty well, in large part because we lived in California and my dad is a pretty fantastic gardener. (Mmm… tomato, bell pepper, and cucumber salad. Forget the lettuce— you have to buy lettuce.)

    It didn’t occur to me until much later how much work went into feeding five growing kids. But I was always very sensitive about asking for money— my parents never told me that things were too expensive but somehow I never got around to asking them, because I assumed they were.

    But since my family was all about the volunteering , I knew we weren’t anywhere near poor, or hungry. Annoying as I find mandatory service in high school, I think it does serve a purpose. Whether it gets past the filters in particular students’ brains is another matter.

  27. Cynthia,

    We’ll not speak the name of that man (I live in WA also) but it’s interesting to note that he ran a small business in Mukilteo for a long time. The main road in and out of Mukilteo is… a state highway. That’s right, his business and in fact his town, owes its connection to the surrounding areas to a tax funded road. The economic success of that town is, in part, due to infrastructure paid for by public money, i.e. taxes. Primarily car tab licnesing taxes. The irony here is that he made his reputation by getting an initiative passed that cut those VERY taxes.

    The main problem with cutting waste in government is that there is no line item labelled ‘waste.’ We all have different opinions on what constitutes waste. Government, at any level, has to try to balance the various opinions and fund the things that attract the publlic seems to support. As with any human activity, the results are imperfect. Expecting them to be otherwise is unrealistic. Seeming to expect them to be otherwise under the guise of promoting your own interests is merely underhanded and cowardly. Arguing that it’s a waste of money to feed poor children is selfish and inhumane.

  28. I’m going to introduce a concept from intermediate macroeconomics here:

    Structural unemployment.

    Structural unemployment, as those who take intermediate macroeconomics (that is, the beginning of the economics-that-only-economists-take-in-college part of the curriculum), is unemployment that is built in by various inefficiencies of the market system. These include obvious things, like disabilities and illness, and less-obvious things, like a locational mismatch between employment skills and available employment. It is possible to drop below the structural unemployment rate for a limited amount of time, but only in emergencies… and only at a heavy, heavy cost later on.

    Even command-controlled economies, such as true socialism and true communism (they are not at all the same thing), have structural unemployment rates; the evidence so far available indicates that rate is around 2%. Limited-intervention economies, like ours — after all, the defense sector isn’t exactly market-driven! — appear to have structural unemployment rates of slightly under 5%. Nobody has ever tried a pure market economy, so nobody knows what the exact number is… except that it would be significantly (in the statistical sense) above 5%.

    So, if we want to eliminate poverty, we can’t rely on the beloved market forces to do it.

    This is the long-winded, academic version of “A rising tide lifts all boats that don’t already have holes in them.” One of the corollaries of structural unemployment theory is that initial circumstances do have an impact on long-term eventual outcome.

  29. I know this is going to sound crass and callous, but I think you’re conflating “being poor” with “being on the government dole.” I’ve got nothing against poor people for being poor, and there should be no shame associated with an empty wallet. I do, however, believe that there should be a social stigma attached to going on welfare in order to make it a refuge of last resort, rather than simply what you do if you’ve lost your job and don’t feel particularly motivated to get a new one. I’d rather people only went on welfare/unemployment/whatever after they’ve tried getting a less glamorous job and discover that it just can’t pay the bills, rather than before.

    To reiterate:
    social stigma attached to poverty = not okay
    social stigma attached to going on the dole = okay

    Reasonable people can (and do) differ on the issue. Please refrain from making juvenile attacks on my character merely because my opinion on the subject differs from yours (I’m looking at you, Tripp).

    All that said, there really shouldn’t be any intentional shaming of the kids of poor people of any stripe. It’s certainly not the kids’ fault, and shaming them will accomplish nothing but make their already tough lives worse.

  30. Hugh said it beautifully:

    “We are here to help others; if not, what are we here for?

    I grew up poor and actually didn’t realize it until I was in my 20′s and interacting with people from very different financial backgrounds.

    Years later, I lived in Las Vegas and the vast majority of people I met who lived there seemed to be blind to a rich-or-poor caste system. Millionaires, middle class folks and poor folks rub elbows like money doesn’t matter. I’ve heard Vegas described as ‘the most honest city in the U.S. – money-wise” and I agree. It’s great that there are no city or state taxes to worry about in Vegas (sorry, Boston, Mass., but OUCH!)

    Now I live in a socialist (former communist) nation. It has a similar feel to Vegas with regards to people’s view of wealth and social standing. Here an SUV is looked at in askance, “why in the world would anyone need such a large vehicle?” I love it!

    Thanks, John, for a particularly thought-provoking post.

  31. Not to sound too much like an echo chamber here, I also remember quite clearly those who have helped and inspired me to pull myself up. Those who looked down on me or tried to make me feel ashamed of myself, meh…not so much. I can bring quite enough guilt to the table myself, thank you very much.

    My wife and I actually spent a while last night thinking about all of the times when a single incident with the kids’ health or a job loss at the wrong time would have spelled disaster for us. I have been very very lucky. Many do not get the chances that I have had.

    I know far to many people who still work far harder than I do who have not manged to be as successful as I have been. I know people who are far smarter than I making much less than I do. Life is not fair nor easy for the vast majority of us. I simply cannot comprehend a mindset that says, as John put it: “fuck you, I got mine”.

    I really have nothing else to add here… These kinds of discussions burn me up, especially when we are talking about the damage that is inflicted on children for some peoples selfish shortsightedness.

  32. #30, CE Petit — If the government of the US and the labor statistics folks thereof were not lying through their sharpened and shark-like teeth, the rate of unemployment reported would be about double what it is. I was not working for quite awhile. Know what I put on resumes? semi-retired. After all, for most of that time I lived off my savings and off my IRA money.

    Unemployment ran out well over a year ago, and after that I did a lot of volunteer work for non-profits, all the while looking for a job, no less. But when the unemployment checks stopped, the government ceased to count me as unemployed. So f**kem — if I’m not unemployed by their standards it’s not going on a resume. I finally got a job about 6 weeks short of the two years unemployed mark. If I hadn’t had a relative die, I don’t know how I would have coped. What a crappy way to have to do things.

    Meanwhile, a vet who would otherwise be living under a bridge has been camping out at my house. Yes, for those two years.

  33. “I do, however, believe that there should be a social stigma attached to going on welfare in order to make it a refuge of last resort, rather than simply what you do if you’ve lost your job and don’t feel particularly motivated to get a new one. I’d rather people only went on welfare/unemployment/whatever after they’ve tried getting a less glamorous job and discover that it just can’t pay the bills, rather than before.”

    Yeah, that’s what’s happening. People are losing good jobs and thinking to themselves “I don’t want to get another job, so I’m going to relax on welfare for awhile.”

    Yeesh.

  34. While you’re right that the “shame the poor” mindset is useless or counterproductive in the majority of cases, it’s the occasional outlier that gets the publicity and sticks in peoples’ craws that causes the problem, especially as that outlier often gets magnified and exaggerated. (E.g., This story based on this.)

    The other way to look at it is that shame is a normal cost of receiving aid–the family safety net that can keep someone middle-class instead of poor when they make a stupid mistake often comes with a decent helping of shame as well, as any grown adult who has needed to run home to his parents for a loan because of a foolish choice can attest.

    While shaming everyone receiving government aid is over-inclusive (since it shames those whose need for help is due to no fault of their own), I’m not sure that the harm in over-shaming is worse than would be the harm in creating a mindset that taking handouts from the government is a normal, natural thing that no one should feel negative about.

  35. My 2 cents – which will probably go unheard…

    One of the things that really pisses me off (more than shaming the poor) is preying on the poor. In my humble opinion, they should abolish the national lottery system – as the people who buy lottery tickets are often the people who can least afford to buy them. I see it first hand at the family run convenience store, about 2 blocks from my house.

    And I certainly don’t buy all of that rubbish about the state giving lottery money to schools and so forth. I’m sure they do, but I can’t imagine that it makes a difference. It’s retroactive tax on the poor, and the foolish.

  36. I’ll state that negative motivation does not work on me, but I believe it DOES work for some people. It amazes me when it does, but it does.

    I’ll point to Bobby Knight as an example. I may be WAY off target with my thought process here, but I know I could never play a sport for someone like Bobby Knight. It just wouldn’t work. To say that he didn’t get the best out of many players would probably be a fallacy, though.

    My point here being, it is possible that for SOME, shame could be an effective method. I wouldn’t do it. I don’t think it is very nice, but I understand how some might think it is a legitimate thing.

  37. Bla bla bla. You want to give your money away, go ahead. (and I mean yours, not taxes…ya lib.) But stop patting yourself on the back for how hearty you are. It’s not becoming.

  38. What commie leftist pinkos don’t understand is that thanks to the free market, everyone can become rich and benefit from the cheap labor of– Uh. Never mind.

  39. Mythago: I think you missed the point of my analogy. The Ivy League education *is* the two kings. The losing weight thing is also an analogy…it isn’t meant to talk about how much easier it is for the rich to lose weight…the point is that even though, in truth, losing weight is just a matter of calories out exceeding calories in, it still is very hard for most people to lose weight in just the same way telling a person barely afloat financially to “just save more and work harder” ignores how hard that is to do just that. Shaming people for being poor is no more useful than yelling “fatty fatty!” at the overweight. Still, in both cases, working harder at it helps, whether your 5 lbs overweight or 500 lb overweight. Someone who is 500 lbs overweight likely needs lots of help and lots of education. And, of course, there’s lots of genetically thin people who think the best thing to do is scream “fatty fatty!”

    I completely agree with you otherwise. Programs meant to fight poverty should be designed so that people can see that hard work equals better circumstances. (With the huge caveat that we need to ensure that they don’t require impossibly hard work to get anywhere. Telling the single mom to get a third job is useless.)

  40. But sometimes the people who can afford it least are the ones that need it most. I have days where I figure the only way my situation will ever improve is if I win the lottery, but I mostly avoid thinking about that. Taking away the lottery doesn’t make other options appear out of thin air, doesn’t even force a reevaluation of options, it just removes the best source of hope and makes the situation even harder to bear.

  41. By the way, could anyone tell me where to go for these great handouts that are inspiring people not to work?

  42. My dad was an enlisted man until I was in my teens and when we were stationed in Guam, there were so many who qualified for free breakfast and lunch (including my brother and me) that they just fed everybody for free. It was cheaper than running the program to set the types apart. I bet there are a lot of schools where it would be cheaper to just feed everybody.

    I was a consultant in my mid-20s and made a lot of money, but as soon as I went back to corporate work, I became disabled. I think I’d be dead if I had to live on my Social Security disability. I had a perq of private disability and that’s what keeps me alive. That goes away when I’m 65 — 12 years from now. I’m making preparations: my mortgage will be paid off before I’m 65, I’m looking for things I might be able to do at home with my disabilities that will bring in more than just SSD, and I’m trying to save (hard to do when medical crap takes up about a third of my income).

    So I’ve seen down and up and down. If there was a way for me to be up again, I’d go for it. But my body isn’t likely to let that happen.

  43. Christian @38 said:

    And I certainly don’t buy all of that rubbish about the state giving lottery money to schools and so forth. I’m sure they do, but I can’t imagine that it makes a difference. It’s retroactive tax on the poor, and the foolish.

    States do give the lottery money to schools. They also cut school funding from other sources by the same amount. Net gain for schools: zilch. As far as I know, it’s happened that way in every single state with a lottery.

  44. It always baffles me when a someone takes a nasty attitude about issues like this, and it’s usually someone who is so totally clueless about what happens outside their own little orb of existence.

    Frankly, I’d love to be rich. Yep, I like capitalism. I think it’s great. But I also think that the price I have to pay for the opportunity capitalism affords me is to remember not everyone can take advantage of those opportunities. It’s built into the system.

    Think education is some silver bullet for wealth? Yeah, okay, let’s all be accountants. Then we can sit at our desks with nothing to do, because, well, all the tradespeople and semi-skilled folks got sick and tired of being laid off merrily went back to school to be accountants. So, they ain’t building nothing, you ain’t accounting nothing.

    Oh, wait, it’ll work. I forgot about third-world slaves. Sheesh. What was I thinking.

  45. “Cards are also a very bad analogy. Card-dealing is random. Not too many poker games allow Mr. Two Kings to take an extra chip from the pot because he went to an Ivy League school, for example.”

    Cards are actually a very good analogy. While people claim to try and make dealing random a lot of people work hard to make it very much non-random. You are allowed to do what you want if you don’t get caught. As in cards, as in life.

  46. social stigma attached to poverty = not okay
    social stigma attached to going on the dole = okay

    How true. And the lion’s share of the shame belongs to those who get the lion’s share of government handouts. Executives at Archer Daniels Midland, Wal-Mart, Halliburton, Carlyle, Exxon Mobil, Chevron – I don’t know how you people can sleep at night. Get your snouts out of the damn trough. You make me physically sick.

  47. #31 above (among others) reiterates a point that John hit in passing: that the desirable organisation of how society treats minors (and/or whatever other groups of folks are determined to be in need of special treatment, care, and support) is likely not the same as the desirable setup for adults.

    I’ve not yet found an argument that I find convincing against the hypothesis that (roughly) ‘socialism is the only moral system of raising children’ – i.e. that as members of a civil society, it is incumbent upon us to provide for each child a level of care and education that is as good as possible. [A similar argument is the basis for my opposition to the existence of private education - but I digress.]

  48. If you are interested in what effect shame and resentment of that shame has on those living in poverty you should read “The True Believer” by Eric Hoffer.

    The book is concerned with “mass movements” (i.e. hippies in the 60′s, religious cults, etc.) but can easily be applied to violent movements in the modern day (it was written in 1951). The gist of Mr. Hoffer’s argument is that poor and disaffected people (racial, religious, or national minorities) resent being treated like shit. And when enough shame and self serving “help” is heaped upon these minorities by those in power, they get together and get violent.

    Now, I don’t think the children of P.S. whatever are going to stage a bloody coup of the high school, but “The True Believer” is an excellent examination of the social and psychological dynamics involved in how those in need are treated.

  49. CV Rick (#10) and Marilee J. Layman (#51) point out something that, as an Army brat, I knew growing up. Unlike them, I was lucky enough to know it second-hand.

    Enlisted pay isn’t enough to support a family.

    Yes, even with the housing allowance, the ability to shop at the commissary and PX/BX, and so forth.

    The 2008 pay chart includes a raise, which helps. The “support the troops” Bush administration proposed a 3% raise, but the terrorist-loving Democrats in Congress slashed that to 3.5% instead.

  50. I am lucky.. I have never really been poor… I have at times… calculated how much I made an hour vs how much it would cost me to do things….

    I find that now as a relatively richer person… I am very much more willing to tip people. I look at it from the persepective of hey.. when I worled at a grocery store for $7 and hour… the waitresses at a busy retaurant are making a heck of a lot more than I am…. now our family makes a ton more than most waitresses.. or especialy the cheap hairstyling places I go to. Haircutters, make very little at the places you go for a $10-15 haircut. I pay $20 regardless.. even if ends up being a 30 or 40% tip.

    But anyway when I was a student I was a bit poor… poor in the sense of buying the cheapest food… not poor in the sense that if I was really starving I could not go home and get all the food i could ever want or need.

    I had a girlfriend at university… she had an alcohlic dad… she was so cheap.. I could not grasp it.. she actually worried about how much toliet paper was used!!!! Seriously.. and hot water in the shower and stuff… stuff I would not even concieve of thinking about.

    Like the infamous “Being Poor” you can’t really grasp what it does to you mentally.. and for life unless you have been there.

  51. As someone who read John Scalzi’s heartfelt and carefully written 4-point explanation at the top of this thread, I agree with John Scalzi.

    As someone who grew up on his fiction, I agree with Robert A. Heinlein about paying it forward.

    As someone who had co-authored refereed papers on Mathematical Economics, and who has taught a Postdoctoral Seminar on the same, I agree with C.E. Petit.

    Tomorrow, Monday 3 March 2008, I shall again be the Substitute Math teacher at Rose City High School (Pasadena, CA being one of the cities that calls itself the Rose City, as in Rose Bowl, Rose Parade).

    Who are the clients of Rose City High School ?

    High school students in the Pasadena Unified School District are eligible to attend Rose City High School for one or more of the following reasons:

    * Behavior problems at the comprehensive high school
    * Attendance problems at the comprehensive high school
    * Substance abuse problem at the comprehensive high school
    * Parent and or student request
    * Students awaiting expulsion procedures

    Many teachers are afraid to teach at Rose City High. I volunteer for it whenever I can. Many of the students are there because they made poor choices. But many come from grinding poverty, gang-dominated neighborhoods, severely dysfunctional families, group homes, and the like.

    I do not believe in shame for them. They suffer enough.

    I wear a good suit and tie, as a gesture of respect for them, and to exhibit the uniform of “dress for success” which is not much seen in “the ‘hood.”

    I like my students there very much. They are smart, creative, and strongly motivated to escape a life of poverty and crime.

    I teach them Algebra and Geometry, of course. They need to pass the CAHSEE to graduate high school in California, and the Math part is a huge barrier for many students.

    But I also teach them Life Lessons, as best I can.

    WHO has made it from abusive families — such as Caroline Lucretia Herschel, escaping her Bad Dad’s family kitchen to become the most famous woman scientist in the world.

    WHAT they need to know to succeed in school and life, beginning with the key ideas of Math and Science which they were never told because their teachers did not know or were unable to teach. Heinlein did a good job in this arena, as did Asimov, Clarke, and others whom you know and love.

    WHEN is the best time to join a team: when it is new and on the way to huge success (i.e. the first few thousand employees of Microsoft and Apple are all millionaires). Never mind taking crappy jobs and being enslaved to credit card companies. Look HARD for the Big Chance in this Land of Opportunity.

    WHERE to go, when they get out of the ghetto. They usually have dream destinations already, from their TV and movie and web and reading. I give them more details on those dream locations, if I know, and emphasize that they CAN get there, if they work SMART. It is a big lie that merely working hard will get them where they want to go.

    WHY — they know why. I put it italics, and underline it.

    HOW to get rich (as John Scalzi has explained for the professional writing world).

    I am not very good at learning names of people whom I just met. I trace it back to when severe measles (a month in the dark, doctor’s orders) ruined my eyesight, as had happened to my mother. Squinting at a blur across the room in 3rd grade and calling out the wrong name caused me shame. This shame was bad. So I make a seating chart as I take attendance, and make an effort to use each young man’s and woman’s name several times in conversation. That is also a matter of respect.

    Heinlein’s “Citizen of the Galaxy” details noblesse oblige, and the perpetual fight against slavery. Poverty can be a form of slavery. There should not be shame directed against slaves. Stronger measures need to be directed against slavers.

    I am proud to fight on the front lines in the war against ignorance and poverty. It is (along with my contract work for Army, Navy Air Force, NASA, FAA, etc.) my National Service. As Heinlein suggested in Starship Troopers, that service is why I am a genuine Citizen, entitled to vote.

    Oh yes, I am a patriotic citizen of the United States of America. But, since childhood, I knew that I am also a Citizen of the Galaxy.

    [steps down from soapbox. Fine print on soapbox reads: "I use Skyway Soap because -- it is as pure as the sky itself!" -- Have Space Suit—Will Travel]

  52. Mark Wise @ 52 said:

    Net gain for schools: zilch. As far as I know, it’s happened that way in every single state with a lottery.

    Not all. By law, the Georgia lottery proceeds are not allowed to be used for general funding of schools. Instead they have been used for HOPE scholarships, Pre-K programs and providing high-tech innovations such as distance learning and computer skills training. According to their website:

    Georgia Lottery Corporation proceeds are used to supplement, not supplant, traditional educational funding. According to a recent report issued by the State Auditor, general fund appropriations to education have increased since the Lottery’s inception. Therefore, total state spending on education has increased significantly since the Lottery was started.

  53. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that people who insist it is necessary to shame the poor misunderstand the actual mechanism. A sense of shame or discomfort or frustration is a natural consequence of being perceived as having less than one ought to have or less than what others have.

    By “natural” I don’t mean “good” or “appropriate.” I’m not even sure it’s inevitable in the long haul of the human race. I just think it’s natural, the same way lions eating their cubs is.

    My speculation is that every human along with every animal is motivated to seem smarter/stronger/possessed of more resources than is true, and that the capacity for this is related to reproduction and evolution. The shame is merely a proximate mechanism to encourage this urge to appear more fruitful than is the case, and it’s probably only one of many such mechanisms, some of which are cheerier – maybe a sense of noblesse oblige, or the social approval that comes with being a “bootstrap story.”

    I also think it’s not unique to the poor. It’s the same urge that causes newly rich social climbers to beggar themselves to fit in with the next rung up on the hierarchy. It’s the same niggling sensation that makes most people more likely to throw money in the collection plate in public than they might in private. It operates in addition to whatever positive motives and inspiration are part of a person’s makeup.

    My point is, if shame is a natural consequence, it is like physical pain from an injury. They are both evolved proximate avoidance mechanisms. Do the people who feel they must be the agents of shame feel the need to break the other leg of the guy who crashed his bike (maybe it was the cyclist’s fault, maybe it wasn’t), on the grounds that cyclists need to be more careful?

  54. One thing I’ve found is just a collosal misunderstanding of the mechanism of welfare by many who have never been through it.

    Take disability welfare, for example. Most people don’t realize how hard you have to work to prove that you can’t work (when likely many people really can work with some accomoodations) but without the disability pay, many would lose life saving medical insurance and treatment. It always seems to happen that the same people who seem to want to shame the disabled for not working are the same people who don’t support health insurance reform that would allow them to work and are the same people who shun the idea of corporations having to provide reasonable accomodations. There is this idea that disabled people get everything they need paid for by the government or charity. Many things, like durable medical equipment (wheelchairs, specialized beds, hearing aids), computer technology (voice activated systems, augmentative communication, etc.) lift-vans, etc, are items that costs thousands upon thousands of dollars and must be paid out of a persons own pocket. (Or a person must literally spend years working on procuring funding.)

    I see a similar thing happening with single mothers. There is barely any child care assistance in this country. You can have all the wonderful work programs and educational programs in the world for single mothers, but if there is no safe place to put their kid while they do them…they are going to pick welfare while taking care of their child vs. minimum wage job with their child in the car in the parking lot.

    People act like being on benifits is some kind of leisurely vacation life in the tropics. It is actual a horrible state of unstable and stressful hell. Benefits to me always feels like trying to go up while only being allowed to ride the down escalator, and watching everyone else go to work on the up escalator.

    Of course, there are poor people who make poor decisions just as there are rich people that make poor decisions, yes. (Paris Hilton, GWB, etc.) The difference is that rich people have such a padded margin of error and can more easily get out of trouble without it throwing them onto an unstoppable downward trajectory. When you have no margin of error, one false move or just a bad judgement call can be unrecoverable.

    People who think they have 100% earned everything they have gotten amuse me to no end. Its sort of a “There for the grace of god go they…” kind of feeling. I feel almost sorry for them that they live in such ignorant bliss. Things can change in an instant. No one has control over everything and no one is immune.

  55. I have always wondered (@33 years old) why it is that “common sense” dictates that middle-class parents are to be demonized for using child-care services, while lower-class parents (often single parents) must be forced into working outside the home – therefore necessitating the use of those same child-care services? It seems to me that either “a woman’s place is in the home” or it isn’t. Either “day care is evil” or it isn’t. Why the explicitly class-based double standard?

    BTW, I don’t personally believe either of the above mentioned statements.

  56. Mr. Vos Post, I applaud you.

    Well, Jesus did.

    Yeah, and how well did THAT work.

    “We’re supposed to give our money to the poor. Why are you driving a new Mercedes?”

    “Uh….look! Gay marriage!”

  57. Shaming the poor is redundant, they already feel ashamed. Personal experience here. I usually get pissed whenever people start talking about poverty, because it’s so obvious (whatever their position happens to be) that they have no idea what they’re talking about.

    I’ve been on the dole both as a child and as an adult. Ashamed everytime. (Btw anyone who feels motivated to tell me I shouldn’t be ashamed, please don’t. That only makes it worse. Then I’m angry at you for being “understanding”. Then I end up feeling bad for being angry at you when you meant well, and obviously couldn’t understand where I was coming from.)

    JLR@15 mentioned that he liked the concept of pay it forward, for individuals but not government.

    Then Mythago@18 jumped all over him. About a bunch of things, that JLR didn’t say. JLR didn’t say anything about being okay with corporate welfare. He didn’t say anything about being a Libertarian, or all taxes being theft.

    And he certainly didn’t say anything about being upset that his tax dollars are going to pay for some kids lunch tommorrow.

    I don’t know JLR, and I have no idea where he stands on any of that, but I know it’s not in his post.

    Speaking as someone who’s been there I can tell you the problem with government handouts, people game the system. So rules are created to stop them from doing it. So then these same people learn to get around these rules. So new rules are created. So then, I think you see where I’m going there. But what about the people who truly need the help and would use it to improve their situation and get off the roles?

    Their too busy trying to stay afloat to learn how to get the help they need.

    I also lived in a homeless shelter run by a man who wanted to help people. He knew who was actually trying to get out and improve their lives, and he knew who was just trying to float along in the easiest way possible. The shelter had rules about how long you could stay and under what circumstances. But if you were really trying he’d bend or even completely ignore the rules altogether to make sure you got the help you needed. He used his judgement.

    But with government they don’t have judgement, they have rules and regulations. And if you can learn to exploit them you get money and support, if you can’t, you don’t.

    Whether or not you actually need it isn’t the deciding factor.

  58. Rigel, I think JLR can probably defend himself, but when somebody goes on about how help is fine just not from the government, they are most likely a small-l libertarian at the least.

    Yes, people game the system. That is true of every system–even private charity. Why does “some people cheat” mean that we should therefore reject the system outright?

  59. Yet again Mythago, you’re responding to something that wasn’t said. I never said anything about rejecting the system, much less rejecting it outright. The point I was making was that when someone criticizes the system, they may have a point, they’re not necessarily some evil jackass that hates poor people and wants to see them suffer.

    Since I admitted I had used the system myself I think any claims I made to rejecting it would ring a little bit false.

    Before you ask I don’t know how to fix the system. But I don’t think implying that anybody who criticizes it wants to see children starve is going to produce any solutions.

    Before you freak out about what you assume someones position is maybe you should ask yourself if maybe there’s some truth in what they say.

    The difference between private charity and government is simple. When government makes a bad decision it kind of difficult to go to another one. Especially if you’re poor.

    When a charity makes a bad decision, there’s probably several others you can go to in the same town.

    Oh and just so we’re clear, I am generally Libertarian in my thinking. But I’ve never joined the party because there are significant disagreements, and I just don’t like political parties.

  60. We shame others because it allows us to say, “Your tribe is different from my tribe. My tribe is better.”
    Shaming allows us to take away their power.
    It allows us to take away their voice.
    It allows us to make them invisible.
    It dehumanizes them and allows us to emotionally detach ourselves from their situation.
    They are no longer human and deserving of compassion.
    The are merely “The Poor.”

  61. But I don’t think implying that anybody who criticizes it wants to see children starve

    Rigel, the irony here is that you’re responding to something that wasn’t said, presumably because you’re touchy about criticisms of Libertarian thought. *W*

  62. I just can’t get worked up about the idea that some of my hard-earned tax dollars are going to make sure some little kid eats lunch tomorrow. You?

    No Mythago, no irony. You said it,now you just wanna back off of it because someone called you on it.

  63. Btw, I’m fine with criticisms of Libertarian thought. I criticize it myself as I implied in 70. It’s just so far, I haven’t seen any criticisms from you. Accusations, yes. Criticisms, not so much.

  64. John H. @62

    I’m glad that Georgia is an exception to the way lottery funds are used. That’s the way it ought to be. (And hey, it keeps me from getting too comfy in the cynic seat. Bonus!)

  65. The thing about growing up poor that is not understood by people who haven’t grown up that way is that some of the fundamental baselines are different. The non-poor take for granted certain underpinnings of life: you’ll have a roof over your head next month; you’ll eat lunch every day next week; when your shoes wear out, you’ll get new ones; nobody will come and take your furniture away. For the poor, these are not givens, but variables.

    There are also less basic, but no less significant, givens: you’ll get something for Christmas; you’ll break the monotony of everyday life by going on a vacation or to summer camp; you’ll go to college; if you work hard, you’ll get what you want.

    The non-poor live in a firmer, more dependable world. It gives them a degree of self-assurance that they are not even aware of, because they have never known the absence of the conditions that cause it. They don’t have to take gravity into account every time they take a step, because gravity has been a constant throughout every moment of their lives. But the poor don’t get reliable gravity. Sometimes you go to take an ordinary step and find yourself spinning off into space.

    It makes you different in a way that the people who don’t share that difference can’t understand.

  66. Thanks for this post, John.

    Having grown up pretty poor myself, one of the most interesting things for me is having to learn as an adult the *skills* I never learned as a child. And if people don’t think there are a whole set of middle-class skills that help you become and stay middle-class, well, they’ve never had to try to be the first person in their family to attend college or get an office job, is all I can say.

    And there’s a huge difference in graduating college with student loans, and graduating college after mom and dad paid for everything.

    And that’s, of course, assuming you can pass for middle-class well enough to get good grades in high school, and learn something between school and your after-school job, and code-switch well enough to get through a college entrance interview…

    It’s as if you are running the same race as everybody else, but the starting line has been moved back rather a lot, and so you have meters and meters of ground to make up before you can even start to compete.

  67. On the internet, you’re always going to have clueless people who don’t get it. Poverty and shame play differently depending on the culture around you. When my family was on assistance, I lived in a neighborhood and went to a school where everyone was. I think we had some kind of a punch card (yes, I’m old) for the free lunches, and I was completely oblivious of the significance of free lunch. I think the kids who paid for lunch had the same kind of card, so I’m not sure how anyone would be able to tell who was paying for your lunch. I was also much younger than 14.

    At that time, in that place, there was much more shame associated with wearing unfashionable clothes and shoes than with being on the free lunch program. So, ironically, I ended up being ashamed of my “poverty” based on remarks made by other kids, when in fact, later, I realized those other kids were poorer than me. There was incredible importance placed on appearance.

    Currently, my mother is on disability. She has been for decades and will for the rest of her life. The awful treatment she receives from the agencies intended to “help” her has always shocked me. She lived in a subsidized apartment in Lansing for a long time, and the property managers would “inspect” each apartment every three months, to see whether it was tidy enough, etc. I was so angry, because a landlord does not have the right to “inspect” your home, but the agencies infantilize the residents and misrepresent the law, invading their privacy, and failing to extend courtesies that in the middle class we expect as a matter of course. Forgot your wallet? Overslept? Got sick? Lost a piece of correspondance? If you’re poor, you’re not allowed to get away with it. You can never make one single mistake. Grrr.

    When I tried to put mom on the list for subsidized housing in my town, after she became ill with cancer, I encountered a nightmare of rules and regulations that would be considered outrageous by anyone not in need. You must wait in this line, on this day, or you will be put at the end of the list. You must respond to this letter within ten days (including mail each way) or you will be put at the end of the list. You must notify us, in writing, if you move, or you will be taken off the list. You may not travel for extended periods (like more than a week) or, if we try to contact you and cannot, you will be taken off the list. I finally let her application lapse, because we were sent a letter insisting that she show up in person with all her documents in order to stay on the waiting list, within an unreasonably short period of time. Just to have a “chance” at an apartment. Screw ‘em.

    Shame is useful. The problem is it is only useful if you’ve actually done something wrong. I can’t see how my mother’s illness and disability are her fault, so anyone that wants to shame her for it is going to have to answer to me.

  68. Honestly, why is anybody in America who got free lunch, even if they felt they were shamed for it, talking about being “poor”? The lack of a realistic global perspective among supposedly educated Americans is staggering sometimes…

  69. My kids were on free lunch for almost all of their school years.

    Our school district in Texas went to a method where if you pay for lunch you put money into an account and punch in your (for lack of a better word) debit account number.

    Free lunch kids were issued the same accounts. Punch in a number, lunch paid for! No speaking required. No shame involved.

    Solved a lot of the shaming issues at the schools. Yee haw. Texas finally did SOMETHING right.

  70. Sergeant E:

    Having a lot of money in a global perspective means absolutely nothing when you, in fact, live in the United States. People are indisputably poor here even if they have the money to live like kings in, say, Eritrea. I think it’s entirely disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

  71. But shame is magic! Haven’t you heard that it can also make fat people skinny and teach the illiterate to read?

    … yeah, not so much. Thanks for this very eloquent piece.

  72. >>Currently, my mother is on disability. She has been for decades and will for the rest of her life. The awful treatment she receives from the agencies intended to “help” her has always shocked me. She lived in a subsidized apartment in Lansing for a long time, and the property managers would “inspect” each apartment every three months, to see whether it was tidy enough, etc. I was so angry, because a landlord does not have the right to “inspect” your home, but the agencies infantilize the residents and misrepresent the law, invading their privacy, and failing to extend courtesies that in the middle class we expect as a matter of course.>>

    Catherine, part of what I have been doing for the past three years is combating what you are referencing here. Nearly all direct government-funded programs treat people horribly. Nearly all are wasteful in a way that is almost incomprehensible. People suffer, horribly, while everyone looks the other way and thinks “that’s taken care of.” It’s not. It’s taken care of very poorly, if at all.

    That said — if people are smart and careful and don’t make many mistakes — they can have a shot at putting things together for themselves. My former mother-in-law is able to live in senior housing and the only bad thing they did/do is force the residents to pay $90 a month, which most do not have, for a crappy lunch five days a week that most cannot eat due to health restrictions.

    We do not ask our government programs to abide by any standards. I do mean ANY. I don’t mean regulations. When I read that story referenced above, of the lady in New Orleans with the 60-inch big screen TV and an obviously non-substandard Section 8 apartment and lots of possessions around – I see thousands of severely disabled or elderly people waiting for Section 8. I see the vet living under the bridge or the bush. I see a family riding the bus all night long because they have no place else to go. I see young women with toddlers with liver disease, who worry every day that the child will die, unable to get to the doctor or pay for medicine.

    There’s enough money. It’s just horrifically, almost mind-bogglingly wasted. First — why would the lady in New Orleans have had Section 8 for 58 years? Where is the opportunity for someone else to have the benefit? There are entire areas of the country where there is no Section 8 whatsoever. “Working poor” people easily, and often, come out a few dollars more in income than receiving food stamps or any other benefit.

    By all means, give more money to programs, and take away the shame. But first, make the programs do at least what they are supposed to accomplish with what they have, then give the additional funds. Do not pour more money down the rathole that has zero standards and zero intelligence behind it – because it will not reach those who need it. In terms of macroeconomics, I’m sure the waste and idiocy plays a role just like pot is 1/3 of the cash crop in the US. Even so, I refuse to believe that doing things better and wasting less money while assisting people more is bad. It has to be good, because what we have right now destroys people, it doesn’t help the way it should, and there are many who receive no help at all who desperately need it.

  73. Some people would be motivated by shame to get out of poverty*. Not all, not most and probably not even many, but some. Other people would need different motivators.

    For many people, motivation is not the issue, but ability. (Motivate me all you want, I’ll never be a ballerina.)

    People who want to shame others out of poverty fall into three camps. The first camp is those that don’t understand why people do things. They either can’t get people to do stuff (AKA “lack leadership”) or they are a one-trick pony. The second camp has little or no understanding of why people are poor, so they made baseless assumptions. The third camp is selfish and doesn’t care.

    Without some research, it’s hard to figure out which camp to put somebody in – although they are all wrongheaded.

    * or quit smoking, loose weight – you get the picture

  74. Very good post, thanks. I volunteered at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen for lunch one Christmas. About 25% of their clientèle are the working poor. They come in, grab their lunch, pack it up and rush right back to work. These people don’t need shame. They need good damn JOBS. And the homeless and the mentally ill (such as the gentleman having an animated conversation with someone I couldn’t see) don’t need shame. And the young men and women working hard to pass their GED so they can continue their education don’t need shame. They all need HELP.

    Trenton is full of the most punishing poverty, and yet if you drive 20 to 30 minutes in any direction, there are people with money falling out of their pockets. There’s the real shame.

    (I would do more for the Soup Kitchen if I could, but they are only open during business hours while I’m at work. I donate money every month though. It’s a worthy organization. Here’s their home page: http://www.trentonsoupkitchen.org/ )

  75. Excellent post and one I will save.

    The comments were interesting as well, but I am always amazed at the ability of so many Americans to feel superior to those they see as beneath them.

    Poverty is a cycle and it is perpetuated in this country in large part because Americans are in love with the myth that they live in a classless society. Class is the problem and moving from one class to another is exceedingly difficult whether one is doing all the “right” things or not.

    My son spent the first year or so of his life living on the streets of Phnom Penh with a few older children. Many countries have a level of poverty that would astound us here. That said, many of our own citizens, in our own communities (no matter how comfy and suburban and “affluent”) live in abject poverty as well. We’re just really good at hiding it and we’re really good at pretending that we have no class issues and so they just don’t exist.

    There are macro answers I suppose-I’m not good with that stuff. My gut feeling is a free market, capitalistic society isn’t part of those answers. On a micro level, hell yeah, pay it forward. Helping others, voting in ways to ensure that all citizens are fed, have health care, shelter, education, safety is good too.

    I live in a suburb where we pay less per student per year than most other communities in our state, but we are a relatively “affluent” community. I listened to a neighbor complain about his taxes and make it clear he will vote to keep them low and then listen to him bitch about all the school cuts and the fact that we pay for busing, pay for garbage etc. Then I watched him put a really fancy, lovely landscaped pool in his back yard. The only entitlement I see in this country is the entitlement of those who have to keep having and make sure those who don’t never get close.

    So, yeah, great post, there are no easy answers and here’s hoping we see some change.

  76. Philip K Dick suggested an empathy box. Fail to show enough empathy and Deckard can hunt you down as a replicant.

    I’m fortunate enough never to have been poor, but the attitude of some of us to poverty and the poor makes me wish the empathy box was real, because those sorry sobs would fail the test every time.

  77. 81: Having a lot of money in a global perspective means absolutely nothing when you, in fact, live in the United States. People are indisputably poor here even if they have the money to live like kings in, say, Eritrea. I think it’s entirely disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

    There are people here who are relatively less well off, that’s for sure. But when being “poor” includes a roof and four walls, no reason to starve if one can just shift themselves down the road to the local welfare office and affix their signature to a food stamp application, and free school through twelfth grade for anyone who actually shows up, it’s hard to see how more than a very few people are “indisputably poor”, no matter what they feel themselves to be, or how they are portrayed. IMO the most terribly depressed county in Appalachia or blighted inner city in this land bears no comparison to the real poverty that is the daily lot of many, if not most, of the people in the world.

    Saying that poverty is a realtive thing may be rhetorically convenient, but it’s a sick joke in the context of the real world. Having one’s feelings hurt over having to eat a free lunch presuposes there’s a lunch for one to eat. And when the availability of that lunch is beyond question, along with the school it’s served at, how in the world can one be considered even remotely “poor”?

  78. Sergeant E:

    “Saying that poverty is a relative thing may be rhetorically convenient, but it’s a sick joke in the context of the real world.”

    Oh, bullshit. Poverty exists in the United States, and it is real, and trying to say that it’s nothing compared to the poverty elsewhere means absolutely nothing to a kid who is going hungry or someone who has to decide whether to pay rent or electricity this month because they haven’t the money to pay for both.

    What you appear to be saying is that people aren’t poor if there are remedies available to ease their condition, but this is pretty much the ultimate in begging the question. Those services exist for a reason and while the poor in America are fortunate that these services exist, it doesn’t change the fact that the reason they have to access them is that they are poor, both in the context of the rest of the nation, and in the sense they lack access to resources.

    Yes, it’s nice the US doesn’t actually have the sort of favelas and shantytowns that exist elsewhere in the world, and that people don’t drink and cook using the same unfiltered water that someone dumped their feces into just slightly upstream. But to suggest that you have to get to that point before you can be considered poor here in the US is complete nonsense.

  79. “There are people here who are relatively less well off, that’s for sure. But when being “poor” includes a roof and four walls, no reason to starve if one can just shift themselves down the road to the local welfare office and affix their signature to a food stamp application, and free school through twelfth grade for anyone who actually shows up, it’s hard to see how more than a very few people are “indisputably poor”, no matter what they feel themselves to be, or how they are portrayed. IMO the most terribly depressed county in Appalachia or blighted inner city in this land bears no comparison to the real poverty that is the daily lot of many, if not most, of the people in the world.

    Saying that poverty is a realtive thing may be rhetorically convenient, but it’s a sick joke in the context of the real world. Having one’s feelings hurt over having to eat a free lunch presuposes there’s a lunch for one to eat. And when the availability of that lunch is beyond question, along with the school it’s served at, how in the world can one be considered even remotely “poor”?”

    The thing is as Americans.. or Canadians.. or the “wealthy nations” we have to have compassion for the poor here to even give a rats ass about the rest of the world. Clearly to me the nationstate means little… ethnicities… religions… who cares!

    The place we have to be as a species to really go to that next level is to think of US… not US vs THEM. There is no them there is just us… but if in North America we are not willing to truly feel and deal with the true poverty around us of our fellow citizens how the heck will we care about Eritrea or Sudan or Haiti? We won’t becuase in our OWN CITIES… the suburbanites don’t want panhandlers downtown as they are a “blight”….

    As a species we have come far from the tribal ways of our past.. we are globalized… but we still don’t really care that much as a group about the poverty among us…. let alone that around the globe… the first step is to make our entire nation or continent our kin.. next the world is all out kin… out families.. our group our tribe.

  80. “Yes, it’s nice the US doesn’t actually have the sort of favelas and shantytowns that exist elsewhere in the world, and that people don’t drink and cook in the same unfiltered water that someone dumped their feces into just slightly upstream.”

    Sadly, this level of poverty does exist in America and it exists in almost everyone of our communities-most of us just don’t see it.

    And while there may be services and programs in place that doesn’t mean the people who need it get the services or the programs and the reasons are as many and varied as the individuals and families who live in abject poverty.

    I get so tired of the blindness of people to this reality. Many of the systems “in place” are, as others have noted, so bogged down in bureaucracy and in many cases staffed with very negative and cynical employees who believe that anyone who asks for help is “gaming the system” that it is virtually impossible for those who need help most to make their way through the quagmire.

    Try it sometime. Try to get a job, but don’t have an address, don’t have any references or schooling past 6th grade, don’t have access to a shower or clean clothes before you ask BJ’s or McDonalds for a job and see where it gets you. Then saunter (heh..assuming anything is within walking distance…a huge assumption in our culture) over to a social service agency and try them. Let me know how it works for you (by “you” I mean those who think it’s so easy).

    And it all begs the larger point, we live in a very sharply divided class society. Our economic well being relies on this so why would it be easy for the poor to move out or even eat and sleep safely?

  81. John,

    I think you can make your points without attacking someone with a “you can’t get dates” sort of accusation, and I hope you will going forward.

    Well you called them assholes. In general assholes can’t get dates. I know you didn’t single out anyone by name but your reference to those who advocate shame made it pretty clear who you were talking about.

    I promise not to single anyone out, but here is my observation. Some men are attractive to women and some are not. For the less attractive this can lead to anger, resentment, and bitterness, which leaves them even less attractive to women. Women are not idiots.

    In general this group of men will be attracted to the philosophies that lift them up and also try to control women.

    There is a reason why a certain political party is full of failed marriages while it claims to support marriage above all else. There is a reason why a much smaller political party is greatly supported my mostly young men who hang around on the internet.

    In the Sixties we would either mock these people or tell them “you need to get laid, man.” Why should I show respect to people so screwed up they keep trying to change the world when they won’t even see that they need to change themselves?

    And no, I’m not saying every man can be handsome or a model but the ugliest thing of all is being an ahole (I prefer not to use your word) and that is something that can be changed. If they’d change that and adopt a few basic standards of hygiene and very basic fashion they would be surprised how attractive they can really be.

  82. You know how autism really kind of lives on a spectrum, ranging from normal through Asperger’s to full-blown autism? I have to wonder if there’s a similar spectrum for sociopaths… I just can’t understand the kind of lack of human compassion that prompts people to want to shame children for being born to poor parents… I mean, really, what kind of sick bastard thinks, “Hey, these kids have a pretty unfortunate lot in life, let’s make their lives harder so they learn that poverty is bad.” Yeesh.

  83. Tripp:

    “Well you called them assholes.”

    Well, first, as you note, I didn’t specify anyone in particular by name, which does matter, as does the noting that a certain type of thinking makes one an asshole, rather than saying “you are an asshole.”

    And second, I run the joint, which means I get a special set of rules, and I can tell others to be more circumspect than I. Yes, totally unfair, but I refer everyone to the site disclaimer and comment rules, in which I disavow any pretense of fairness.

    Third, I know lots of Republicans and Libertarians who can get dates. With women even (assuming they are male, and sometimes when they are not). Seen it with my own eyes, I have.

  84. Tripp…

    You are really pigeon holing Republicans… like half of the people in the USA.

    The attitudes toward poverty do not really fall along political lines…. Many Republicans are working in soup kitchens… donating money to the poor…

    While in a characture or a stereotype you can make most Republicans unfeeling to the poor… that is merely a gross misrepresentation.

    There are indeed uppity assholes of all political stripes that want to shame the poor… or suggest Tony Robbins or some other bloated ego self help guru as the answer to the ills of the poor… But they are just a-holes…

    I have been relatively poor at times… I mean pretty freaking poor…. not broke but poor… but still I could have always gone back to my parents in my 20′s and not been poor…. But I do understand a bit what it means to be poor… but not the lack of options so many that are poor have…

    Very many Americans (or Canadians) have been broke… not all that many have been poor…. To me it bleeds back to my grandparents… everyone’s grandparents… This continent went through a time for a decade in the 1930′s when MOST people were poor… In a way it is GOOD to be poor for a time as it really enlightens you to be responsible in your affairs and life and to understand compassion…

    The baby boomers Generation X and Y… don’t know poverty really except the few (millions!!!) but still few who live from day to day worring about how to buy food.

    But most of us have never been poor.. we don’t save… we put ourselves as the middle class to actually be poor if we have a few months or half a year of financial trouble….

    Anyway it is not Republican vs Democrat on this…. it is those with empathy and compassion and a sennse of understanding of the plight of others vs the incredibly selfish and self absorbed… those are not political lines…

  85. Catherine,

    Shame is useful. The problem is it is only useful if you’ve actually done something wrong.

    It is not even especially useful then either.

    I dearly wish everyone learned a little bit of psychology and training techniques.

    Negative reinforcement never works as well as positive reinforcement.

    Here is a simple example. Say my three year old is fighting with her brother. I yell at her to “stop fighting.” I finally spank her.

    What has she learned? She has learned to ‘stop fighting’ or has she. For one thing the human brain nearly ignores the ‘stop’ and pays more attention to the ‘fighting.’ We all know the test where you tell someone to not think of elephants and by golly the vision of an elephant pops into their head.

    The second problem with negative reinforcement is that it does not instruct the child what to do instead. It is not instructive.

    Negative reinforcement may also backfire because it may lead to hiding the behavior and resentment as well.

    What if instead I told my three year old “get out some coloring books and color me a picture” and then praised her for doing that? That kid is going to color me so many pictures my desk at work will be full of them. I’ve raised four kids. My desk was full of pictures and other craft they made for me that did and do mean the world to me.

    Positive reinforcement works and the idea that somehow it is bad or bribing or too lenient is simply incorrect. Why stick with something that does not work instead of using something that does work?

    One reason is that it is easy to yell “stop” and it is harder to think a moment, decide what you want the kids to do, and then tell them to do that. It does take a little more time but it gets easier with practice.

    Some people are either ignorant or too stubborn to change their ways but it really is a crying shame that it affects their children so much and it tends to perpetuate the cycle.

    For those people what will misconstrue what I said as “building self-esteem” or “bribery” or “asking the kids to do something” or being “permissive” please go back and reread what I have said. Those are not the same thing as telling kids what you expect from them and then when they do it rewarding them with nothing more than honest praise and recognition.

  86. Also even if a CHILD has a parent who is irresponsible or an alcoholic… why should they face ADDITIONAL shame in school?

    I remeber a re-run of the Cosby show… Theo is working at an inner-city after school program… he realizes a girl is always asking to clean up after they have snacks… he suspects something of her for a reason I can not remember and confronts her and realizes she is going through the garbage to bring food home to her house and her brothers and sisters and parents…

    Theo is so upset as he explains it to Cliff… Theo says he has never had to worry about food in his life… it is just there in the fridge…

    Even if a parent is BAD (and certainly not all poor parents are at all bad parents.. most aren’t) the Child does not need to additionally suffer through their poverty in school through shame…

  87. 89. Oh, bullshit. Poverty exists in the United States, and it is real, and trying to say that it’s nothing compared to the poverty elsewhere means absolutely nothing to a kid who is going hungry or someone who has to decide whether to pay rent or electricity this month because they haven’t the money to pay for both.

    Having four walls and a roof to pay rent on, and having a chance to use electricity that comes out of a wall if you can come up with some cash makes one wealthy compared to a lot of places I’ve been. And that’s no bullshit.

    And kids “going hungry” is great pathos, but missing a meal and exisitng on the edge of starvation are two entirely different things. And that’s a real difference between most “poor” kids here and kids who live in real poverty elsewhere.

    What you appear to be saying is that people aren’t poor if there are remedies available to ease their condition, but this is pretty much the ultimate in begging the question. Those services exist for a reason and while the poor in America are fortunate that these services exist, it doesn’t change the fact that the reason they have to access them is that they are poor, both in the context of the rest of the nation, and in the sense they lack access to resources.

    That those services exist for people to access puts them in a much better place than a family living on the streets of Mombasa or in a cardboard shack in a Philippine fishing village. So what I’m saying is that talking about the “poor” in the US as if they were in the dire straights that are usually portrayed is a conceit that one can only enter into if one is ignorant of the rest of the world. It ignores the reality of our nation’s wealth and how far down into the lower economic classes it actually reaches, even if it only is in the form of handouts and discards.

    Yes, it’s nice the US doesn’t actually have the sort of favelas and shantytowns that exist elsewhere in the world, and that people don’t drink and cook using the same unfiltered water that someone dumped their feces into just slightly upstream. But to suggest that you have to get to that point before you can be considered poor here in the US is complete nonsense.

    It’s not nonsense. It’s a globally realistic perspective. When I used to go overseas on my Uncle Sam’s business, and even today when I correspond with persons outside the US and Europe, the one thing that is brought home to me time and again is what a bunch of whiners Americans really are. A choice to miss a meal because eating it might hurt your feelings? A choice between electricity and candles (because people usually do choose to pay the rent)? People all over the world today kill and die over a mere hope to someday maybe have those choices.

  88. 91. Try it sometime. Try to get a job, but don’t have an address, don’t have any references or schooling past 6th grade, don’t have access to a shower or clean clothes before you ask BJ’s or McDonalds for a job and see where it gets you. Then saunter (heh..assuming anything is within walking distance…a huge assumption in our culture) over to a social service agency and try them. Let me know how it works for you (by “you” I mean those who think it’s so easy).

    I see people around here (St George, UT) work all day every day without addresses (at least to start) or much of an education. They can’t even speak the language very well, if at all. But they don’t limit what they define as “work” to a nice indoor fast food job with a regular paycheck. Funny how that works when you actually do come from someplace where people live in the street and the very bottom rung in the US is a step up.

  89. Sergeant E

    But the fact remains… people are poor in the USA… not nearly as poor as the bloated stomachs of those sad children in Africa… but if we don’t even care about the poor schoolmates of our children… why would we care about the poor across the ocean?

    It isn’t like the $$$ ging to the poor in the USA would otherwise be spent in Africa… nor should it be…. but maybe if we spent or cared a bit more about the poor in the USA we would find the money from somewhere else to increase foreign aid…

    It seems like you are advocating taking the aid given to the poor in the USA and using it overseas… that would be ridiculous… and also never happen IMO.

  90. Rob Walker @ 101: Actually, our government seems much more willing to send aid to foreign countries than to inner-city or rural communities here in the US.

  91. Sergeant E:

    “Having four walls and a roof to pay rent on, and having a chance to use electricity that comes out of a wall if you can come up with some cash makes one wealthy compared to a lot of places I’ve been. And that’s no bullshit.”

    It’s just completely irrelevant, because we don’t live in “the world,” we live in the United States. Here in the United States the mechanics and reality of poverty are different than they are other places. I’m really having a hard time understanding why you’re having a hard time grasping this.

    I entirely grant that poverty elsewhere is dire. It doesn’t mean that poverty here is a walk in the park. And just because it’s not poverty as it’s experienced in India or Guatemala or wherever doesn’t mean that those who experience poverty in the US are not profoundly affected by their condition.

    And unless you’re planning to airlift those in poverty in the US to places where their federally-defined poverty-level incomes allow them to live like swells, I think you should get used to the idea that it really is possible to be poor in the US, and that it sucks, even if it doesn’t suck as bad as being poor somewhere else.

  92. 101. But the fact remains… people are poor in the USA… not nearly as poor as the bloated stomachs of those sad children in Africa… but if we don’t even care about the poor schoolmates of our children… why would we care about the poor across the ocean?

    That’s just it — I can’t look at the vast majority of people in the US who are supposedly poor and see “poor”…not after what I’ve seen in Africa and Asia. And to me you have the priorities of caring 180 degrees reversed. Why should we be so exorcised over deficiencies in our society — real ones, there’s no denying it — when they are a realitve walk in the park compared to things going on every day in other places that we don’t usually give a second thought to?

    It seems like you are advocating taking the aid given to the poor in the USA and using it overseas… that would be ridiculous… and also never happen IMO.

    I’m not advocating anything other than stopping this ridiculous self-absorbtion that Americans have about stuff that’s hardly a real problem compared to what people have to live with every day elsewhere. Look at us — our language of “poverty” is generally about the narrowed choices people have. Electricity or rent, lunch or self esteem (something that’s by no means new in America, BTW — read To Kill a Mockingbird), heart or diabetes medication. Come on — poor people with choices? Who are we kidding?

  93. Shaming doesn’t work on the shammers who abuse the system. And those who aren’t shamming normally need some help to climb up–if they can–and shaming doesn’t encourage them to get it.

    Some of the most enthusiastically libertarian/free-market thinkers (Hazlitt and Mill, for examples) have tried their best to come up with a “solution” to poverty and poverty relief, and come back to the conclusion that we HAVE to have poverty relief to some level for societal reasons, but admit they can’t figure out how to separate needed and required relief from the mere enabling of the lazy. No easy principle, just a quest for the least objectionable approach at any given time for a given situation.

    Ultimately the only thing that really alleviates societal poverty is societal wealth–but poverty relief retards wealth creation.

    Welcome to the paradox.

  94. Sergeant E @ 98: It’s already been noted (several times) here that poverty in other countries is worse than here. It still doesn’t mitigate the fact that there are people living in poverty in this country.

    As has also been said in so many words, charity begins at home. If we can’t help those who need it here, how can we begin to help those who need it there?

  95. Sergeant E @ 104:

    I’m not advocating anything other than stopping this ridiculous self-absorbtion that Americans have about stuff that’s hardly a real problem compared to what people have to live with every day elsewhere.

    Welcome to democracy, where the problems of the least of us are the problems of all of us…

  96. Sergeant E:

    “Come on — poor people with choices? Who are we kidding?”

    I think your definition of “choice” is interesting, relative to the amount of choice poor people here actually experience.

    What you are saying, essentially is “I don’t consider you poor unless you meet the poverty standard of [x],” [x] being some standard that has no analogue in this part of the world. Which is your call, but which is an essentially useless formulation based on the reality of the situation. Because outside of your head, poverty continues to exist in the US, it continues to affect those who live in it, and it’s a condition people are made to feel ashamed of living in.

    Of course, if you want to convince the poor here that they are not poor, I would suggest you start by convincing the people who would look to shame them for their poverty that they’ve got the wrong target. I wish you joy in that work.

  97. 103. It’s just completely irrelevant, because we don’t live in “the world,” we live in the United States. Here in the United States the mechanics and reality of poverty are different than they are other places. I’m really having a hard time understanding why you’re having a hard time grasping this.

    But it’s not irrelevant. It makes a world of difference that we do live here in the US, where “poverty” is so much less life threatening and so much easier to rise above. It’s only our self absorbtion that makes us see somebody who has clothes, at least the choice between electricity and candles, free food for the asking, free school, etc. as poor.

    I entirely grant that poverty elsewhere is dire. It doesn’t mean that poverty here is a walk in the park. And just because it’s not poverty as it’s experienced in India or Guatemala or wherever doesn’t mean that those who experience poverty in the US are not profoundly affected by their condition.

    “[P]rofoundly affected”? Isn’t that a bit hyperbolic when the average poor kid here is overwieght and the average one in Africa or Asia is lucky to be alive? Gawd — having the opportunity to be profoundly affected is such a cornucopia of wealth compared to things I’ve seen that I can but shake my head in amazement that the least of us can be so lucky in this country.

    And unless you’re planning to airlift those in poverty in the US to places where their federally-defined poverty-level incomes allow them to live like swells, I think you should get used to the idea that it really is possible to be poor in the US, even if it doesn’t suck as bad as being poor somewhere else.

    Sorry, John, but nobody here is really poor who doesn’t want to be, no matter how much less they may have than the average person, or how many suboptimal choices (by our ridiculously inflated middle calss standards) their condition may force them to make. That’s just a fact of our national wealth.

  98. Sergeant E above @ 79 , while the definition of “being poor in America” might be subject to a relativistic approach on a global perspective — the shame felt from being labeled as poor not subject to a global perspective. It is very localized and subject to things that “culturally American.”

    Sergeant E while you’ve suggested that “perspective among supposedly educated Americans is staggering sometimes…”; might I suggest you take a look at the psychology of shame and the effect it has on the individual, the community and the “class” of people it is used to marginalize.

  99. Sergeant E @ 109:

    Sorry, John, but nobody here is really poor who doesn’t want to be

    Bullshit!

  100. Sergeant E:

    “Sorry, John, but nobody here is really poor who doesn’t want to be”

    What an appallingly ignorant thing to say.

    I’m done with you on this thread, Sergeant E. You’ve just proven yourself not worth the time to argue with on the subject.

    You go ahead and keep believing that no one’s really poor in the US. It’s a nice little fantasy.

  101. “Sorry, John, but nobody here is really poor who doesn’t want to be”

    And thus we have the basis for the whole discussion. There are people who blame the poor for their condition and refuse to see it any other way. At best it’s a lack of empathy and at worst it’s sociopathy.

    Sergeant E, I’ve seen the poverty of which you speak – in Thailand and the Philippines, in Somalia and Turkey, and elsewhere. It doesn’t diminish the shame I had growing up poor in America and it’s not analogous.

    But if you do insist on international comparisons, then why aren’t people begging at highway entrance ramps in Sweden and Norway? Why are those nations so much wealthier than ours? Or have all those people decided not to be poor, picked themselves out of their problems and become wealthy? Or would you admit that there are other nations who deal with their relative poverty issues better than we do?

  102. 108. I think your definition of “choice” is interesting, relative to the amount of choice poor people here actually experience.

    Compared to real poverty in Africa and Asia? It’s a lot of choice. It’s only a relatively narrow lifestyle by American middle class standards.

    What you are saying, essentially is “I don’t consider you poor unless you meet the poverty standard of [x],” [x] being some standard that has no analogue in this part of the world. Which is your call, but which is an essentially useless formulation based on the reality of the situation. Because outside of your head, poverty continues to exist in the US, it continues to affect those who live in it, and it’s a condition people are made to feel ashamed of living in.

    Just because it’s defined as poverty doesn’t mean that it actually is. What you’re saying is that just because a 60 degree day is colder than an 80 degree one, it’s effect is comparable in some way to a 20 degree one.

    Of course, if you want to convince the poor here that they are not poor, I would suggest you start by convincing the people who would look to shame them for their poverty that they’ve got the wrong target. I wish you joy in that work.

    Well, ya see, my mom spent a good part of her childhood in the rural Ozarks, wearing dresses made out of flour sacks and all the other cliches of American rural “poverty”. She wound up a bank executive in the end. Why? Because even though they barely had a cow to milk and row to hoe, nobody got the silly idea in their head that they were poor. They had food, a roof, and a school. That was considered enough. Only in our silly, benighted age of exhorbitant excess do we even call people with those things “poor”.

  103. >>It isn’t like the $$$ ging to the poor in the USA would otherwise be spent in Africa… nor should it be…. but maybe if we spent or cared a bit more about the poor in the USA we would find the money from somewhere else to increase foreign aid… >>

    My point is “cared.” The system does NOT care. It is easily, provably true. The only “system” our country has that is based in “caring” or at least an underlying ethic of equality of some type is our educational system. I do believe the majority of teachers care, the majority of administrators care, and the majority of educational systems at least want to try to educate as many students as they can.

    I have gotten in the biggest flamewars with close friends because I point up the really disgusting economic realities of our “system” for assisting people in need — or really, with anything else. We are in a system where it is considered “okay” to spend $60,000 a year to literally “house” someone in a “shelter,” and where it is unacceptable to – heaven forbid – figure out what type of job that person could do, and would want to do, and PAY THEM. We are in a system that refuses to acknowledge any number of effective ways to reach out to others and work together, that purposely crushes them. A system where people actually receiving “aid” are never asked what they think would be beneficial, when each and every one will instantly say — jobs, careers, opportunities, the ability to live in a decent place – transportation and childcare. Oh! No – let’s “create a program” and pour money down the rathole and refuse to change it in any regard no matter what problems occur.

    Yeah, I get in all types of flamewars with “liberals” about this. What I’m really saying is, what the f@!!#!! is wrong with – if you’re going to try to help people, actually DOING it? Not doing what “you want to do,” but what the person wants and needs? It seldom happens. Every time it does happen, for example, with the WIC program that provides nutrition to children who need it – they continually want to cut it, hate on it, and target it.

    The whole thing needs to be rethought and redone. And start with the people directly involved. Ask them. Give them a choice. Give them a voice. What a concept.

    Do NOT look at the past. You cannot trust people who’ve done things in the past. They are dishonest, corrupt, or suffer from the simple inability to either admit mistakes have been made or to change course, or from the inability to listen and respond without putting their opinions on it and destroying any possible positive movement.

  104. Sergeant E:

    Are you willing to put your money where you mouth is? Are you willing to give up your current home, your current income, and literally become homless, and show us how it’s done? After all, it’s not that big a deal. You said so yourself.

    If you’re willing to do that, let us know how it works out for you in, say, the next year.

    If you’re not willing to do so, you’re a hypocrite. No matter what your excuse is, because there are poor people out there right now, that you claim *want* to be poor, who have it worse.

    I know which way I’m betting.

  105. Apropos to the proposition that America’s poor have it easy, from 60 Minutes:

    60 Minutes heard about an American relief organization that airdrops doctors and medicine into the jungles of the Amazon. It’s called Remote Area Medical, or “RAM” for short.

    As correspondent Scott Pelley reports, Remote Area Medical sets up emergency clinics where the needs are greatest. But these days, that’s not the Amazon. This charity founded to help people who can’t reach medical care finds itself throwing America a lifeline.

    Fun, fun!

  106. Speaking of poverty and paying it forward I’d like to take a second from everyone yelling at each other (who knew charity was such a contentious issue-no wonder Islam has a bad name in the US) to pimp microlending.

    Check out kiva.org, it’s a nice way to put your money where your mouth is. Although currently it doesn’t cover the US, I think eBay’s Microplace.com might-I haven’t tried that one yet.

  107. I was myself homeless in January, 2005. I spent every last bit of money I had after my baby died – for his final medical care, and for my daughter’s well being as opposed to my own. Starting a new job only two days before that, I wasn’t paid for quite some time, and it took a long time after that for me to begin to save again. American Express called to let me know they were suspending my credit card, after they’d noticed I’d charged enough days in a motel to be “trouble.”

    I have also worked since I was 13, and took care of a household by myself, driving a car when necessary and being taught by a family friend to write checks. I wasn’t really “poor” but I functioned as poor because there was no one but myself to step in and help for at least a year and I was on my own, with a severely disabled caretaker that was unable to do much for a long time. I was too proud, ashamed, and depressed after my grandfather’s death, to go to my father, or ask for help until it got to the point I couldn’t take it any more.

    I agree, and understand, about people being angry, and having had “enough.” We all deserve some dignity for ourselves. We all deserve basic things. There should be NO SHAME because we are all human. We also all come into this life with little, and we are sure as heck not going to be able to take anything with us when we leave.

  108. Excellent post, John.

    On a somewhat related note, since discussion of the poor invariably gets tied up in the notion that all those shiftless losers are taking your/mine/our tax dollars and sure as hell need to learn how to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps just like me/you/us.

    As an empirical matter, most Americans at or below the median income level in this country receive more in transfer payments from the government than they pay in taxes (if you’re bored, my original post is here: http://paulskemp.livejournal.com/156935.html).

    It seems to me this blunts much of the claim that government aid to the poor creates dependency, etc. Blunts it, that is, unless all of the middle class Americans who accept transfer payments in the form of FHA loans, subsidized student loans, farm subsidies, unemployment benefits, etc., are also at risk of becoming welfare dependents. Odd that we so rarely hear of how shameful it is to receive those benefits.

    In fact, I think the incessant need of some to shame the poor has its origin in what another commenter said above — a certain subsection of the population gets psychological satisfication out of shaming/judging others for their “failings.” Its just interesting to me (and perhaps telling) that the “intellectual” grounds of the critique (fall with equal force on many (perhaps even most) of those who offer it.

    Paul

  109. Sergent E I don’t think anyone here is argueing that the level of poverty in third world countries is much more disparing than what we view as poverty in the US.

    You however don’t see to recognize the existence of perceived poverty — and the shame and stigma that is attached to it…actually you admit to your blindness:

    “Why? Because even though they barely had a cow to milk and row to hoe, nobody got the silly idea in their head that they were poor. They had food, a roof, and a school. That was considered enough. Only in our silly, benighted age of exhorbitant excess do we even call people with those things “poor”.”

    Guess what Sergent E… that “silly idea” of being poor is pounded into the heads of children and adults in less than fortunate conditions in the US. That “silly idea” of being poor is probably what allows you to ignore the homeless man with the cardboard sign.

    Did you take a look at the psychology of shame yet? Or you still not acknowledging the pain caused by a US caste system? That caste system btw can be recongnized in the nieghborhoods with the payday loan centers, the pawn shops and the liquor stores on every corner.

    But your answer will be “free choice, freemarket capitalism” and some story about the triumph of a person ignorant of their own lack of material wealth— but not poverty.

  110. There is a psychological need, but I’m not sure it’s completely sadistic. Or rather like a lot of negative behaviour I think it’s rooted in fear.

    Unless the poor are somehow deficient or deserving of their poverty then it follows that they are no different from those passing judgement.

    And for some people it is crucial that they believe that they are better, smarter and more deserving of their lot in life.

  111. I’m in a unique position to look at poverty because I’ve been in both voluntary and involuntary poverty.

    NONE of the shame touched me during my street art years. I was on top of the world, living in better physical luxury on an income maybe a sixth of what I’d earned being a workaholic typesetter, so low that I had to crick my neck to look up at the poverty line. This was because of where I lived, in New Orleans before Katrina, where you could get a GOOD apartment for $200 and living in the French Quarter meant not much in transportation to get to my setup spot. I lived on street portraits. I didn’t waste money on anything I didn’t need.

    Unfortunately, my physical disabilities put an end to doing that and then I went into more than a decade of insane levels of poverty being unable to physically manage all the hoops to jump through to prove to the government that I was disabled.

    I couldn’t stand in line. I couldn’t actually make it to all the doctor appointments and other appointments as soon as they scheduled them. I wound up in a homeless shelter run by a Christian charity for three and a half years, and it was worse than I’d dreaded when I was couch surfing to avoid it.

    THe levels of shaming that went on in that institution and from the other charities and agencies were so high that I nearly killed myself in there. The levels of prejudice in them about my religion and other things — including simply the fact that I’m well read and speak well. I flunked college. Anyone can do that. I flunked out on campus size but it could’ve been anything – yet because I read books and speak like an educated man, I got attacked constantly for not fitting the stereotype.

    I was supposed to be an alcoholic. I got questioned constantly about my alchohol habits and told I was in denial when I said I wasn’t an alcoholic because I wasn’t willing to sign the pledge and quit drinking. I drink maybe a bottle of rum a year, sometimes it takes two years to finish the bottle of rum. I don’t drink often! But the right to do so, say, on New Year’s, have that annual drink was taken away.

    So was going out after 10pm. So was having consensual sex with other adults. The rules of the places and charities were typical for hard-knocks juvenile delinquent facilities, not any kind of adult shelter. And if you didn’t fit the alcoaddict mold and weren’t illiterate or ignorant, oh that would get people picking on you for “being arrogant.”

    They tried several times to take away my computer, because I was still writing and trying to sell novels. They said I had too many books, even though I was getting them on a “three for a dollar” used bookstore’s cheapest rack. They said the other residents were jealous because I had too much stuff.

    What I had was crafts materials and art supplies and a fairly large quantity of well organized recycling materials scrounged from trash, because I also made a living as artisan and street vendor with a number of crafts. Like most street artists I took good care of my tools and materials and prioritized them higher than clothes or doodads. So I still had those things. I still had my own drawings to fill the walls with over my bed in the bunks shelter, in my room in the later disabled shelter. And got told I had too much stuff because I did something genuinely cool with the stuff I had.

    I got blackmailed constantly over those and other issues. I got subjected to meals with hate-rhetoric fundie radio programs blaring on the overhead. I got subjected to fundie biblical misquotes daily on the blackboard. Van trips were organized for every Christian church in the area but no mosques or synagogues or any other religion had access.

    One method of harassment was particularly cruel, the shelter van would take me to appointments and then conveniently forget to pick me up from them. The same driver did this to a lot of the residents, anyone who didn’t keep their head down and believe that they deserved nothing better in life than to someday get a McDonalds job — even though the only people who can KEEP a McDonalds job are skinny, high-energy physically abled people with a cheery disposition. Someone with a lot of energy can do that job and get hired anywhere. Anyone else is going to get fired for not moving fast enough. Forget it if your mobility is only a quarter the pace of an abled person and you need to sit down in less than five minutes.

    I had to prove I was sane. Anytime I didn’t act like the stereotype po’ ghetto alcoholic, I got treated as “Must be mentally ill.” Anytime I got angry at anything and got assertive, they threatened to call the white coats and get me sedated — for mentioning legal action and lawyers, not threatening violence. Treated it as if I was threatening to punch them out and cussing up a storm.

    I didn’t have mental illness. I had physical disabilities and I’ve still got them, most are congenital. A few got added by the starvation, malnutrition and abuse of the years between the time when I had the strength to do the street art thing and the head to live on being able to work only about one or two days a week tops, and the time my back went out and I couldn’t do that any more.

    The government agencies did not enforce religion to the extent the Christian ones did. They weren’t legally able to. But a lot of discrimination goes on. People who have not been through the system have no idea what it does. I thought I was a client of those shelters and charities — but how they treated me was as a product — they wanted to show the donors cleaned-up dried-out drunks rehabbed into low class nonstable jobs.

    They called that The Shuffle, the number of repeat residents on The Shuffle between hospitals, rehab, marginal work, subsidized housing and shelters was most of them. It was a tar pit and I eventually got out of it, thankfully now I’ve got good family and won’t ever fall back that far into their clutches.

    I did a lot to resist the Welfare Head, but it took work and I still get the nightmares. I hope this country gets its head on straight, because this will only get worse with the way things have been going.

    I’m now living on Social Security and at least that’s steady. I’m in a good living situation by luck and good relationships with my adopted daughter. But if I had to do it all over again I might not survive. I knew a lot of people who didn’t.

  112. The ill-considered belief that bad things can’t happen to good people breaks a lot of people who wind up in the system. I’ve never understood the basis for that one, never accepted or internalized that idea. I saw too much tragedy too early on.

    But that’s some of why the poor get shamed and anyone who has any trouble in life gets shamed about it. It’s socially acceptable to criticize people and it’s socially acceptable to dive into cowardly denial rather than believe that yes, that could happen to you. Your kid could be born with expensive birth defects. You could get an expensive disease. Your company could downsize. Your entire job category could become obsolete. These things happen to anyone that happens to be in the path of the tornado…

    But that’s not what a lot of Americans want to be able to accept, and then if it does happen to them, blammo. No way to face it. No way to accept it and deal with tragedy or hardship for what it is.

    What’s expected of people who are born in poor families isn’t just good character but outright heroics and luck.

    And no, I do not believe hard work and discipline mean jack. Everyone I’ve known who worked hard and was frugal and had self discipline was poor and never managed to climb out of it, unless they had something else to begin with as an advantage, savings passed on from family and so on. It’s possible by recklessness and stupidity to become poor and throw away those advantages, but thrift and hard work don’t end the cycle of poverty at all. And neither does believing in the system.

    When the churches are trusted with the responsibility all they do is blackmail people and shut out anyone who doesn’t belong to their version of their religion. Oh, right, the poor don’t deserve freedom of religion either.

  113. Response to Tripp: I don’t understand why you are conflating shame with negative reinforcement. If you know psychology, you should know they are different things. Shame is a personal realization that you have done something wrong. Everyone needs to feel shame at some point in their life, probably more than once, in order to be a good person and have a conscience. ShamING as a transitive verb, is generally not helpful.

    But giving a three-year-old a spanking is not shaming. In fact, it’s not even negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is where you impose an unpleasant stimulus, and then stop the stimulus when the desired behavior is achieved. Spanking is a punishment. Negative reinforcement would be, for example, pulling on a horse’s reins until he stops running.

    Response to Amy: Yes, I agree with you. Rathole, etc. It’s like a Catch-22, because while I would like to see MORE help going to certain people, I would really hate to see certain AGENCIES getting more funding because they are broken and dysfunctional and evil. And yes I have been known to rant at length about the state paying $30,000/year for child care for a single mom of three. Why can’t they just write her a check so that she can raise her own children? SSI disability is engineered to force a person to live in poverty. Any assets you have above $2000 disqualify you. My Mom has made many a frivolous purchase to avoid losing her benefits. How wrong would it be to set up a system where, if people are somehow able to save money out of their grand sum of $567/month, we actually let them, so that maybe, somehow, they can get out of poverty and support themselves someday? For some people, being able to buy a car would make all the difference in the world.

    Oh, well.

  114. Now what we are missing is a substantive discussion on the shame felt by those children living in Beverly Hills born without funds for designer clothes or foreign luxury automobiles. Since poverty is relative, and based on your local situation, per Scalzi (#103, 108) then these poor souls in 90210 must be air lifted treatment immediately!

  115. 118. Are you willing to put your money where you mouth is…If you’re not willing to do so, you’re a hypocrite. No matter what your excuse is, because there are poor people out there right now, that you claim *want* to be poor, who have it worse.

    You’ve misidentified where my mouth is, to begin with. I never said being economically disadvantaged, even in the US, was easy. I said that being economically disadvantaged in the US wasn’t poor, compared to much of the rest of the world. You, John, and everybody else who crticises my position insists that I adopt your relativistic definition of “poor”, because that suits your line of argument. Well, I can’t and remain an honest man. I’ve seen conditions that make it impossible for me to call the vast and overwhelming majority of what you call poverty anything other than the best of luck. It’s not insanity, it’s not sociopathy, it’s not even lack of empathy — because I certainly have exceeding empathy for those in the world who are really poor — it’s just a different, and IMO more realistic, perspective.

    I know which way I’m betting.

    Bet whichever way you wish. I’m not constrained by your straw man. I never said anybody wants to be “poor”, as you would have it. I said that nobody here has to be truly poor by a rational standard that encompases the entire world of poverty. We have too much wealth for it.

  116. Well said, Sergeant E. And way to stick with your point and not let others put words in your mouth. I’m not as good with that, which is why I find myself a psychotic a-hole libertarian/republican puppy kicker. Sux to be me.

  117. Sergeant E,

    Other than quibbling over definitions, what is your point?

    Do this: Replace every use of “poor” in John’s original post, to, let’s say, “those who live on income 50% or more below the median income in the United States.” We’ll reserve the use of of the term “poor,” for purposes of this discussion, to the destitute in third world nations who live on the edge of starvation.

    So, that’s done. What other point do you have? Does it not remain ridiculous, as John pointed out in the post, to hold in contempt those who live on income 50% or more below the median income in the U.S., and their children, simply because of they live on that income?

    In the end, are you advocating a particular policy? Taking a particular position? Should we never worry out wealthy little heads over those at the bottom of the economic ladder in the U.S. because someone else has it worse somewhere else?

  118. 123. You however don’t see to recognize the existence of perceived poverty — and the shame and stigma that is attached to it…

    Uhhh…I’ve explicitly recognized it, more than once. It is, after all, the very thing that I’m criticising. There’s plenty of economic disadvantage in this country, and I would have it corrected where it can be. I just can’t in good conscience call all but a vanishingly small piece of it poverty — not compared to things I’ve seen in other places. What I’m objecting to is not the idea that some people are much worse off than others. What I’m objecting to is the typically American conceit that if you don’t live a middle class lifestyle, you’re poor.

    Look at what the argument is about on this thread — not whether people are living or dying or going to war and killing over their poverty, but how their supposed poverty affects their mental condition and outlook. How shallow is that, when people are living and dying and fighting because of their poverty in much of the rest of the world?

    I’m not blind to the perception of poverty — I just can’t see it in the same way others here do.

    Guess what Sergent E… that “silly idea” of being poor is pounded into the heads of children and adults in less than fortunate conditions in the US.

    Not by me, and hopefully in the future not by many.

    That “silly idea” of being poor is probably what allows you to ignore the homeless man with the cardboard sign.

    Assuming a lot, aren’t we?

    Did you take a look at the psychology of shame yet? Or you still not acknowledging the pain caused by a US caste system? That caste system btw can be recongnized in the nieghborhoods with the payday loan centers, the pawn shops and the liquor stores on every corner.

    I’ve lived and worked in those neighborhoods. It’s not pretty. But we have to recognize that psychological pain isn’t the same thing as starvation, war, and death. I think a big part of the problem is not understanding what our problems are.

    But your answer will be “free choice, freemarket capitalism” and some story about the triumph of a person ignorant of their own lack of material wealth— but not poverty.

    You’re assuming again. I’ve been saying all along that our collective wealth keeps the worst from happening here. That doesn’t mean I think that wealth can be allocated completely through market means. Certainly what prevents a lot of the worst poverty is distributed through non-market mechanisms, even if not efficiently or compassionately.

  119. 131. In the end, are you advocating a particular policy? Taking a particular position? Should we never worry out wealthy little heads over those at the bottom of the economic ladder in the U.S. because someone else has it worse somewhere else?

    Actually, I’m advocating pretty much what John is — not demonizing economic disadvantagement. I just think that advocating such a policy on the grounds of the grinding mental and social pain of poverty or some such is falsely premised. We just don’t have real poverty here, not compared to Asia and Africa. Whatever we think is so bad about being “poor” here is nothing compared to what being really poor is all about.

  120. “133. Actually, I’m advocating pretty much what John is — not demonizing economic disadvantagement. I just think that advocating such a policy on the grounds of the grinding mental and social pain of poverty or some such is falsely premised. We just don’t have real poverty here, not compared to Asia and Africa. Whatever we think is so bad about being “poor” here is nothing compared to what being really poor is all about”

    Damn. Seems like a helluva lot of cyber ink spilled to take issue with a term’s applicability to a particular economic state, all while agreeing with the principal point of the post.

    In any event, thanks for the clarification.

  121. I’m not sure that the ‘it’s worse elsewhere’ argument is gaining much ground because it’s largely irrelevant to this discussion.

    If we are discussing migraines-their effect on getting work and sleep and psychological consequences and someone starts in on how much worse malignant brain tumors are… well, they ain’t wrong exactly-but what is the point of their comments?

    Yes, there’s always something worse. It is always possible to one-up any discussion with cancer, death or Nazis. And?

  122. Sergeant E @ 132 Thank you for clarifying. I think we tend towards similar views and have had similar experiences with poverty in third world countries. I’m not sure if your experience is first hand or not; mine was. I appreciate things on a different level— then again, I never associated wealth solely on an income basis.

    My point (and apologies on the assumptive nature on some of the comments—kind of, you are an arguementative type so… not so much) was not the condition of poverty but the condition that shame brings.

    You are right, psychological pain is not as physically painful as war, starvation and death (death in and of itself is reportedly painless—it’s the process that’s painful AFAWK). That doesn’t invalidate the pain of shame, or make the inadequete perception of self any less significant.

    That is my issue with your arguement: you are invalidating the sociopsychological nature of shame and minimizing a condition because it is in your opinion acute and cureable.

    Poverty is a chronic disease. It is a disease of the mind moreso than a disease of the body, or of a physical-wealth releated nature.

  123. I was born to a disabled mother on a Social Security check who earned less than $15,000 a year. I was smart enough to skip a grade, and yet I kept getting told by my peers “you shouldn’t be in the gifted if you can’t afford to spend $15 to go on the class field trip”. Despite that I was the ONLY one to be smart enough to skip a grade. I managed to get into college (with a lot of loans, but I’m here and I’ve got good grades) and I’m hopeful that in a few years, I’ll have a job where I won’t count as in the poverty level anymore.

    Your post is spot-on. Telling poor people that it’s their fault, that they must suck, that there’s something wrong with them…that’s not the way to fix it. I was never one of those kids who wouldn’t take lunch because I didn’t want people to know I had free lunch, because everyone already KNEW I had free lunch. But, if they didn’t know, I might have been tempted to. You’re right that shame doesn’t help anything, it only hurts.

    bravo for this post! *applause*

  124. Well, Sergeant E, as I expected, you’re not man enough to live by the rules you want to forcibly impose on others. As expected. As I said above, the inability to feel empathy is a characteristic of a psychotic personality.

  125. OMG Terry, please stop the ignorance. It hurts my head and you should feel empathy for me. And JKRichard, Espana Sheriff, and Paul S. Kemp are tragically misunderstanding if they think Sergeant E’s point is only that poverty is “worse elsewhere”.

    If we want to talk about the societal benefits as a result of social services, then fine. However if you wanna start with a misguided premise that a stigma should be avoided at all costs, well, then that’s what you’ll get….all costs.

    Scalzi kicked this off with the “The Social Stigma of Getting Free Lunch” post and associate article that states the United States Department of Agriculture spends $8.3 billion a year to provide free and reduced-priced lunches for 30.6 million children, and they are concerned that only 37% take advantage of it, in part due to the stigma associated with free lunch.

    Then Scalzi is upset with those who want to increase shame. Yet Sergeant E is clear that shame avoidance or shame creation in NOT a good starting point for policy discussion. And that free lunch shame is certainly the least of human kind’s problems because poverty in the US is trivial compared to the third world. Thus ‘shame concern’ pales in comparison to real social ills. So let’s not throw around “psychotic” labels when we have a reasonable debate about whether ‘shame of free lunch’ is actually a relevant starting point to a discussion of poverty policy in the US or the world.

  126. I know that in the most basic sense of the term, I am not truly ‘destitute’; I do have a home, a 12 yr old car, clothes on my back, food on the table, etc. I grew up middle class for the most part, and I did go to college and received a bachelor’s degree and teaching certification. But I can relate to domynoe, #11 on the list, I believe; I too am a certified teacher who had a great deal of trouble getting hired within my own town and school district (they kept saying they wanted to bring in teachers from other geographical locales to add ‘diversity’ to the district’s teachers); so I took a teaching job in another town and had to drive back and forth everyday, which was doable but exhausting, as I was a single divorced mom with three children to care for, one of whom was born with a genetic defect and was also diagnosed at a young age with autism. But as time passed and my daughter developed more and more physical/health complications, I reached a point where I could no longer balance full time teaching, the commute, and all the care my daughter and other two children needed and do it all on my own. My mother became very ill with multiple myeloma cancer around this time and also needed help, and it was a six hour drive round trip each time I went to take my turn helping out with her care and housework and errands, etc. So I ended up leaving my comfortably paid job and not working at all for eight months, just living pretty much on savings, as I dealt with these various family crises. And as I said, I was divorced by then and did not have a secondary or spouse’s income to help out. My mom had to have a stem cell bone marrow transplant to survive her cancer and was very ill for quite awhile. Then my eldest, my son, was diagnosed the latter part of high school with mental illness (schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder) and became very wild and disturbed and out of control, sigh; needless to say, I felt very stressed and exhausted and at that point the only job I could even handle was part time work. So I got a job teaching prekindergarten at a private church child development center for 22 hours a week, and I have been there for seven years now. I make barely $10,000 a year and am not on food stamps or any medicaid or govt assistance for myself, though my daughter does get medicaid coverage and a whopping $433 a month of SSI (she is now 20 but is considered permanently disabled because of her autism and the fact that she had a mild stroke, was diagnosed with diabetes a year ago and has grand mal seizures). I have my son at home with me now, too; he is 24 and can’t keep a job because of his mental illnesses but he can’t get anything but runaround rather than help anytime we try to get MHMR or any other mental health agency to do an intake or give us places to go for help. If you are mentally ill in this country but have no private insurance then you are just crap out of luck. He has severe panic attacks, but people just tell him to get over it and to grow up already and stop ‘faking’ it, sigh; they have no idea how horrible and terrifying his condition is to him and how he struggles with it. The last time I called a social welfare type agency asking for help for him, I was drily told that he could get help faster if he actively tried to kill himself but managed to survive or if he attacked and hurt someone else, sigh. Yeah, those are viable methods of attaining mental help in this town. My daughter has been hospitalized several times in the last year with her diabetes, with a major seizure which was so bad we had to call an ambulance, and to have toe surgery related to complications from her diabetes. She is on numerous meds ranging from diabetes medications to seizure meds to autism meds to thyroid pills and other meds related to her genetic defect, and at age 20 she functions on the social/emotional level of a child about the age of 7 or 8. The main reason I don’t work fulltime is because I am her guardian and primary caregiver (and right now we are on three different waiting lists for medicaid paid providers for her, and each list has at least a 3 year waiting period, sigh; at least that is what I am told each time I call them begging for a provider so that I CAN return to fulltime employment. I also have a daughter who is away at college, her freshman year, and even with grants and scholarships she still needs food and rent money, etc. So that is expensive. So I guess I would consider myself ‘poor’ in the sense that based on my family size and other criteria I match the govt’s definition of being in the ‘poverty’ zone. But I don’t consider myself a lazy, shiftless moocher who just wants a free ride. My life is very stressful and exhausting but I work as much as I can (for awhile I also taught at night at my local community college until my daughter’s seizure problem made it too risky for me to leave her at night with her elderly grandmother to watch her), and I do NOT like being unable to buy ANYTHING extra or unable to cover unexpected expenses like when my water heater busted and flooded my house and the brakes went out on my aging vehicle, etc. Sometimes I can’t even pay my most basic utilities and bills, and when I see people who can toss down spare change for a book or magazine or a latte at Starbuck’s or whatever, much less go on yearly vacations and more exhorbitant things, then by American standards I guess I DO feel ‘poor.’ Right now I am struggling with autoimmune illnesses myself but have no insurance because my part time job offers no benefits and I don’t earn enough to purchase my own insurance. I go to a clinic that accepts sliding scale payments when I do get too ill to function without meds or help, but it is very stressful and daunting to struggle along so and hope I don’t drop dead, as my son and my autistic daughter count on me to care for them. And even with the severity of my daughter’s various disabilities, it took me over five years of applying and reapplying and contesting the govt before they FINALLY approved my daughter for Medicaid and SSI. So I think there are a lot of the working poor like me out there, who are not necessarily uneducated or apathetic or lazy but who just have extreme life circumstances that make it difficult to ever ‘get out of the hole.’ I am nearing 50 years old and worry constantly about what will happen once I’m too old or sick to keep working at all and who will care for my daughter or help my son when he’s having an ‘episode,’ etc. So for all the tales of people getting help who might not really need it, there are also a lot of people needing help who don’t get the help they do need. And it isn’t always for lack of trying. As someone already stated, it is EXHAUSTING and DEMORALIZING and too often DEMEANING trying to wade through umpteen levels of bureaucratic b.s. just to get your kid her insulin or seizure pills or the MRI she needs to find out which part of her brain she had the stroke in, etc.

  127. Perhaps I am the one who is confused, but the difference between saying

    “it’s worse elsewhere”

    and

    “free lunch shame is certainly the least of human kind’s problems because poverty in the US is trivial compared to the third world.”

    Is a little obscure to me.

    If we want to change the subject as start discussing global policy that’s something else. But that was not the subject at hand when the comments were made, and responded to. Moving on to another subject is fine, reframing the debate retroactively is not.

    I’m also missing where exactly our host said ‘stigma should be avoided at all costs’.

  128. I think that those who believe that nobody can be poor unless they want to be are cowards.

    Maybe they say it just to be mean; I’m sure some do. Maybe they say it to boost their egos; I’m sure that applies.

    But I think a lot of them say it because they don’t want the universe to be so cruel. That if someone can be poor and it’s out of his/her control… what’s to stop it from happening to anybody? Including them?

    And thus the myth that nobody is poor except through their own fault is born. And fought for diligently, because the alternative—to accept that fate is uncaring and some destinies are not bound by your own actions—would be devastating.

  129. Look at what Sharilyn said. Sharilyn – I hear you. I wish there was something I could do. I hear you. You are a person of dignity, worth and courage.

    You should know it is difficult to be heard on a “sci fi” message board of people who want to argue about politics, and who do not care about human beings.

    That’s the problem. We should care – about you – and about those around the world.

    http://www.livingcompassion.org/index3.html

    It can work here. It can work there. It just needs to start, and continue. Human compassion. To begin with – people need to listen.

  130. I agree with literally everything you’ve said here. I’m underemployed right now, working as an on-call computer repair technician, and have learned to ignore anyone who tells me to get a real job. I have one; I’m just in a slow period, thankyouverymuch.

    But the concept of help without shame occurs in another aspect of my daily life: when I actually am fixing someone else’s computer.

    The vast majority of people I work for will, at some point while I’m working, say with a sense of bafflement, “I just don’t get these computers.”

    However, as I explain what I’m doing (or have done, when it’s a simple, quick repair), I do it not condescendingly, or in technobabble, but in plain, simple English, stopping to make sure they understand what I’m saying, and how it applies.

    Quite a lot of the time, at the end, a typical customer will happily understand what I’ve just done to fix an issue, and why. And they’ll realize that while they don’t suddenly now know everything there is to know about computers, they know more than they did before–and they know that they can learn more.

    The vast majority of people can understand a great many things…if they accept that they can, and apply themselves.

    Poverty is nowhere near as simple as fixing a computer, or we’d all be rich. That said, I think convincing people that with help, they can get out of money trouble–and then help others–is a very important part of the solution.

    May more and more people pay things forward.

  131. Coming back to this thread this evening I saw a couple of different things.

    The first is pretty simple. Sergeant E and a few others basically feel that qualifying the concept of “poor” and then basically grading it is useful. So, the steeet kids in Cambodia get to be the “real” poor and the street kids in Boston arent’. This happens with medical conditions too. While I’ve lost 100lbs recently, I was a big girl and an insulin dependent diabetic. When people learned I had diabetes they would often blatantly blame me for being “fat”, if I bothered to tell them that no, after cancer I lost the use of my pancreas they instantly became sympathetic. After all, fat with diabetes meant it was my fault, having diabetes for the “right” reason? Much better. To which I say..whatever.

    I have never been poor. However as a social worker for many years and as someone who has also worked overseas I can tell you that poverty in this country has reached levels seen in other parts of the world: you just don’t see it. And I am talking about malnutrition, disease and all that other charming stuff and no food, no running water, no health care and despite some on this boards belief otherwise no access to these services. Sorry, but that is a reality for some of the poor in this country.

    Let’s set them aside though and look at the “sort of’ poor as some seem to see them. OK, so maybe their situation isn’t as dire but trust me it sucks. I was in the hospital for emergency surgery a few years ago and while they were waiting for an OR I was on a guerney next to a young man who was homeless. He had been brought in because he collapsed and as it turned out had hemophilia, his pic line had clogged and he had no more meds anyway. Yeah, you could argue that even though he had to wait until his life was endangered to get a new line and more meds and some pain relief it was better than if he lived in Haiti, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. If I am beaten by 1 person and the next person to beat me doesn’t beat me as hard I’m still beaten.

    The original content of this thread was addressing shaming of the poor and specifically children in poverty. I can tell you, first hand, that the poverty stricken of Africa or Cambodia or many other places I have traveled, while they would accept being shamed for food (maybe, depends on the culture) none of them would think it was right. and that’s the point here, it’s wrong to shame someone for needing assistance, for being poor, for being disabled, for not living up to your expectations of what they should be because-hell- you know best.

  132. I think what is confusing Sergeant E is that here in the US we generally don’t have whole villages full of bloated-stomach skeletal kids or squatter cities on the edges of other cities. Instead, many of our villages have one or two of kids facing starvation. Fortunately here in the US we do have some systems that work and catch many of those kids before they look that way (which, BTW, for most people who have this view of poverty, that look is from drought and crop failure more than poverty). For many kids the “Free Lunch” program is the only meal they get, which is why you’ll hear about some good hearted people who want to extend the program to weekends, summers, and possibly add a breakfast program to it.

  133. Shaming of the poor is, to my mind, almost completely riskless for the shamer. On a very rare occasion it might help. At that point the shamer can claim credit for “motivation”. Mostly it makes things worse. When things become worse for the person (or people) being shamed, the shamer can point and say “see how badly they’re doing? It’s just like I said before, they don’t deserve anything from us but shame.”

    In this way, shame for the poor becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And if the victim is less likely to seek help out of shame, this is even more true.

  134. (1) When I read what Amy Sterling Casil and Sharilyn wrote, my heart aches for them, and my eyes fill with tears.

    (2) Sometimes, not often, in my teaching, I come home and cry. The tears are mixed with anger at a system that allows people in my country to hurt that way.

    (3) My cousin and co-author Professor Philip Vos Fellman read this thread, and emailed me as follows:
    “My mentor at Yale, Theodore R. Marmor wrote a good book about this, “America’s Misunderstood Welfare State”. I took a couple of classes from him and Jerry
    Mashaw at Yale Law School. One of their major points was that any ‘needs based’ welfare criterion or test inherently subjected the poor to additional humiliation and focus in a humilifying and vilifying limelight.”

    (4) Congress passing more laws is generally not a solution, but (not that this is likely) I’d be interested to see what happened if, by law, members of Congress were required to take public transportation (city buses), send their children to public schools and subsist one week of each month entirely on USDA free food and on what they personally purchase with food stamps.

    (5) Speaking of which, the snailmail disgorged, a few weeks ago, demand notices alleging that my wife and I were given a few hundred dollars too much in food stamps in the year 2000 A.D., and that unless we repaid the full amount within 10 days, a lien would be placed on our paychecks and on our home. The year 2000 was when my wife lost her job during breast cancer surgery and further treatment, and I lost my job when my stress was misinterpreted. I agree with the commenters who describe how very hard and unforgiving is the system by which one is humiliated to get food stamps. It only took me 10 hours of phone tag to find out the snailmail address to demand a formal hearing on the foodstamp matter. That has now been scheduled. However, the specific charges against us will not be made available until 2 days before the hearing, and are not guaranteed even then. Understand: this is only a few hundred dollars. On principle, I am fighting this. I will be there with 1,000 pages of documents on the medical and employment hassles of 2000 A.D., and the documentation on how I was denied unemployment compensation payments then. I shall have a number of people there by subpoena, and intend to prosecute those that fail to appear per subpoena. The Constitution grants us the right to redress for our grievances. I have many other grievances, but this one I shall fight, and whatever works, be able to tell other victims of bureaucracy how to fight back.

    (6) Being poor in America may or may not be like being rich somewhere else, although the logic of that escapes me. But being poor in America is a full-time job.

    My comment on Congress is based on this simple observation: with a handful of exception, the laws are made by male middle-aged white millionaire lawyers. As a result, there are two kinds of Justice in America: Justice for the Rich, and Justice for the Very Rich.

    (7) Compare and contrast: (a) what Amy Sterling Casil and Sharilyn wrote; (b) ex-oilman George W. Bush, genuinely puzzled when a reporter asked him in the press conference a few days ago about the impending $4/gallon gasoline. And, for that matter, his father in the photo-op at a supermarket, openly remarking on his surprise that they have these barcode laser scanners in supermarkets. What planet do these ‘compassionate conservatives” come from?

    (8) My substitute teaching at Rose City High School today was, officially in the robo-call system, for Math (as that is one of the subjects I’m officially qualified to teach part-time in California). The clever principal had actually called me in to teach two other subjects that she knew I was actually capable of, despite lacking the formal paperwork: Biology and Earth Sciences. I may have 20+ publications and presentations on Mathematical Biology to my credit; but have no degree that says “Biology.” I may have been an Adjunct professor of Astronomy (which includes Planetary Science) and many years in the Space program flying spaceships to planets, which can fruitfully be compared to Earth, and have taken Geology field trips with the man who taught Geology to the Apollo Astronauts, but I have no such degree. By sheer good luck, the Biology was on Population Genetics, one of the sub-disciplines that I’ve studied deeply and published about. In discussing r-strategy versus K-strategy, I kept them spellbound with contrasts between Genghis Khan’s prodigious Darwinian fitness, and the approach of men they know in their environment who screw as many women as possible, and vanish when they get knocked up, and what it is like for a single mother. While I lectured, and asked questions, they were filling in the Vocabulary quiz handouts, whose terms I was explaining colorfully in context. I collected their handout for the regular teacher to grade when he returns.

    [Extended footnote on "Real" versus "Reel"]: Then I explained why the depiction of class and marriage in the film Titanic was a complete lie. In real life Rose DeWitt Bukater (as played by Kate Winslet) would of course submit to marrying Caledon “Cal” Nathan Hockley (as played by Billy Zane) and have her affair with Jack Dawson (as played by Leonardo DiCaprio) while “Cal” screwed around on the side. The wedding was a business deal between Ruth DeWitt Bukater (as played by Frances Fisher), Rose’s widowed mother, marrying Rose off to ensure high-class status, and “Cal” as heir to a huge steel fortune. In real life, Rose would dress up, wear the jewels, and dance with “Cal” at social events, and then go off to be with Jack Dawson. It is a Hollywood Big Lie that Rose would call off the marriage and marry for love. I explained that my parents married for love, my brothers and sisters married for love, and that I married for love. But, young men and young women, the Rich live by different rules. They have the Media they own feed you the crap about Family Values. But they don’t believe a word of it. And then I explained how Credit Cards are the modern American shackles of wage-slavery. I emphasized that I am a Capitalist. I asked if they’ve been to funerals. Most had. “And was there anyone at those funerals from Visa, American Express, and MasterCard saying how good it was that the deceased made minimal monthly payments that took over 30 years to pay off, and that this profit made the credit card executives rich?”

    They left the classroom excited, and still asking questions. I answer every question truthfully. I did not come home and cry. I did need a nap (still recovering from major surgery as I am). But my wife could see how happy I was to have once again done that supremely patriotic yet subversive act: I told the truth to students, and urged them to work smart (not to merely work hard, which is a Big Lie) and become free men and free women. I love this job. I love sharing knowledge. I love fighting for Freedom.

  135. John I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post. Sure, I know plenty of people who live in poverty because they are to lazy and selfish to work. I also know just as many people who work themselves to death and never manage to rise above the poverty line. My dear sweet brother…wonderful father of two, step father of one and loving husband works double shifts in a factory all week. Every other weekend he works a second job. They remain poor. The people who “shame” the people in the world like him for his financial status are despicable. My brothers story is one of heart. I’m sure there are so many others out there and I truly hope you know how good it is for me to see someone shining some truth on the subject of shame and poverty. Thank you.

  136. When I was poor, and homeless, it was because I was getting treated for cancer and couldn’t work. This didn’t keep people from heaping shame onto me, accusing me of being a drug addict, and even threatening to throw me out of the shelter because my doctor forbade me to do any heavy lifting work while my abdominal incision (which was very large) was still healing.

    The trauma from being homeless, shamed and frightened has stayed with me a lot longer than the trauma from cancer, from being told I might not live.

    I am lucky my doctors and social workers went to bat for me, or the shamers would have had their wish and I would have been a cancer patient in the street.

    It doesn’t make sense. In a country this wealthy, it will never make sense to do this to anyone.

  137. “139. And JKRichard, Espana Sheriff, and Paul S. Kemp are tragically misunderstanding if they think Sergeant E’s point is only that poverty is “worse elsewhere”. ”

    Really? I asked him explicitly to make his point, as it appeared to me that he was doing nothing more than dithering over labels, as if there were some agreed upon Linnaeas Classification scheme for various economic states.

    His response was as follows:

    “133. Actually, I’m advocating pretty much what John is — not demonizing economic disadvantagement. I just think that advocating such a policy on the grounds of the grinding mental and social pain of poverty or some such is falsely premised. We just don’t have real poverty here, not compared to Asia and Africa. Whatever we think is so bad about being “poor” here is nothing compared to what being really poor is all about”

    Whatever other point you think was made, JKRichard, occurred only in the privacy of your own mind.

  138. I hear you, Brenda. I hear you, Amy Sue. I hear you too, Jonathan.

    Brenda, after being put down for the aftermath of a life-threatening illness, said,

    >>I have never been poor. However as a social worker for many years and as someone who has also worked overseas I can tell you that poverty in this country has reached levels seen in other parts of the world: you just don’t see it. And I am talking about malnutrition, disease and all that other charming stuff and no food, no running water, no health care and despite some on this boards belief otherwise no access to these services. >>

    http://asterling.typepad.com/incipit_vita_nova/2007/08/los-angeles-hom.html

    In one of the wealthiest cities in the world — little kids living in shells of apartments with no water, no toilets, no power. Little kids living on the street in tents. Not to mention the other 10,000 who are not little kids on LA’s Skid Row. The legless men on boards with wheels. The man with Down Syndrome wandering by the filthy park and porta-potties with a torn shirt and no trousers. The lady who is younger than I am, but who appears 30 years older, cowering by a sleeping bum in a filthy alley behind a dumpster.

    I’ve been to Chicago, Manhattan and DC and toured projects and supposedly “poor areas.” Can you say “Nickerson Gardens?” Hmn. What’s that? Remember the bad reputation NYC had 30 years ago or so? LA’s gone right past that into something I have personally never seen before outside of the slums of Mexico, and in many ways, it’s worse. It isn’t just Skid Row, it is also South Los Angeles. More dispersed there, more brutal, more frightening. Last year, four thousand homeless families came for assistance to an overstressed, understaffed and underfunded office of my organization, approximately 3 blocks southeast of the corner of Florence and Normandie.

  139. Thanks, John. Good thread.

    Are you familiar with Maimonides’ steps of Tzedakah, which translates as charity, but also as more than that?

    One of the things he talks about is trying to avoid exciting “the painful emotion of shame.”

    That was in the twelfth century.

    Have we devolved?

  140. Well, it’s more that Maimonides was a bit of a high point. They happen from time to time.

  141. God, Robert. This is such a long thread, I didn’t see your story.

    >>The government agencies did not enforce religion to the extent the Christian ones did. They weren’t legally able to. But a lot of discrimination goes on. People who have not been through the system have no idea what it does. I thought I was a client of those shelters and charities — but how they treated me was as a product — they wanted to show the donors cleaned-up dried-out drunks rehabbed into low class nonstable jobs.

    They called that The Shuffle, the number of repeat residents on The Shuffle between hospitals, rehab, marginal work, subsidized housing and shelters was most of them. It was a tar pit and I eventually got out of it, thankfully now I’ve got good family and won’t ever fall back that far into their clutches.>>

    Another name is “therapeutic incarcaration.” Not a jail, but another word for “The Shuffle.” A permanent “place” for all those deemed to “deserve it.”

    You are a courageous, valuable human being. I’m glad you are out of it now.

    I love you Susan. You are a valuable, courageous, brilliant woman.

    A message that is true, but uncomfortable, that even as much progress as my organization has made, or that even I as an individual have made, in my small way – is difficult. Because we are women.

  142. I really want to say to the people like Sergeant E and others – that it is not that your perspective as a human being is bad or wrong. I want to say that I know that what the several people who’ve commented about being marginalized, about suffering, about being homeless are telling the truth. They are not exaggerating, not lying, not making up excuses. I could say much more horrific things about the literal squalor, the horror, the shameful, and hideous conditions on Skid Row, and in many other areas where I have gone. I have gone to investigate. I have gone to help. I have done this off and on for twenty years.

    I am a gnat, a flea. I am nothing in the face of this. The only thing I could possibly do with the least hope of any impact is what I do: write.

  143. He was a high point, indeed, John. At the same time, he did codify a number of important values. I work downtown, in the area that was once New Amsterdam and that admitted Maimonides’ people on the grounds that they take care of their own poor.

    Which they did. And mostly have done. My God, can you imagine the guilt, otherwise?

    I read his steps of giving when I was a kid. If you can’t do much, hand someone a buck and look in his or her face and recognize that person as an individual. Yes, you’ve put the money in a hand, exciting shame, but you’ve recognized the person as human.

    No, it’s not much, on one level. On another, it’s everything.

  144. Espana Sheriff (#141) and Paul S. Kemp (#151) I agree you are confused, but you are in good company since too many are blinded by their rush-to-empathy and would rather twist words than confront Sergeant E’s points directly and wholly. Based on past posts, I suspect ANY contrarian view on this topic will not be rationally considered. This said, however, I’ll make another attempt…(grimace)

    The topic is still ‘shame’ and the Social Stigma of Getting Free Lunch. The point I wish to convey is that shame-of-free-lunch is trivial when compared to real poverty. Poverty in the US is not the same as poverty in the world. Therefore if you are living in the US, going to school, and getting free lunch then you are not likely anywhere near the bleakness of true human poverty as experienced by the vast number of souls on this planet.

    Our nation is so wealthy and has such a diversity of welfare programs that it’s clear our perspective skewed when we confuse ‘shame of free school lunch’ with real poverty.

    Now I’ve doubt I’ve personally seen anywhere near the worst poverty, but I’ve visited several third world countries during my surfing trips and seen communities of people who live on dirt floors their whole life. These people don’t get a free lunch. That’s luxury not within their reach.

    In summary, it’s not an “it’s worse over there” argument, rather it’s a “your perspective of poverty is narrow” if you think that “shame” of free school lunch is a serious affliction to humanity.

  145. “In summary, it’s not an “it’s worse over there” argument, rather it’s a “your perspective of poverty is narrow” if you think that “shame” of free school lunch is a serious affliction to humanity.”

    If you’re going to be that dismissive, then this “attempt” was best left unposted.

  146. I bought into the ‘being on the doll = shame’ mentality. What did I do when I couldn’t find a job and couldn’t pay the rent? Heck, I went into the sex trade. I mean, to my mind, being a prostitute was so much better than being on welfare!

    But, erm, wait a minute… that’s not what conservatives have in mind when they say you should dig your way out of poverty, is it? When they say there are plenty of jobs — and if you were just willing to take the unpleasant ones… Well, let me tell ya…

    And to Sergeant E: When I was going to food banks (and thankfully I was fairly high up on the priority list so they usually had food for me) I wasn’t thinking about the starving kids in Africa. And it’s not like you can grow your own food in a shared two-bedroom basement apartment… No, it’s very easy to starve in North America, too.

  147. JLR, have you actually experienced poverty in the U.S. versus poverty abroad? Have you actually talked to people living with poverty both in and outside the U.S.?

    None of us is dismissing that poverty abroad is much, much worse than here in the U.S.

    The thing you and Sergeant E (Sergeant of what, I wonder) keep somehow missing is that poverty can be much, much, much less severe in the U.S. than abroad, and still be debilitating–even brutal and crippling.

    Think on it this way: It’s much cooler in Death Valley than it is on the Sun, but it’s really hard to live in Death Valley for more than a few hours without water and shade. By the same token, it is easier to live with poverty in the U.S. than outside it, but it will still rough you up pretty bad.

    I’ve lived poor here. I’ve talked with others who have lived poor here. While none of us wanted to do the same thing in, say, Eritrea or Cambodia, none of us wanted to do it here, either.

    Starving is starving.

  148. JLR@158 Sergeant E doesn’t have a point, he’s just being silly. Let me put it like this, I walk into the room on crutches because my leg’s broken. Sergeant E’s upset because he knows people who are paralyzed, and that’s obviously worse than having my leg broken.

    True, but silly. Just because one thing is worse than another doesn’t make that less worse thing somehow not a problem.

    JLR you’re the one that’s confused. This is a rhetorical question only: Do you think these kids should be ashamed of eating a free lunch?

    I say it’s rhetorical because I’m pretty confident you don’t.

    But they are. And they are doing damage to themselves by not eating. And there are people who do try to shame them for it if they do eat it.

    I don’t think you would, but once you understand that there are people who do, maybe you can see why some people are pissed.

    Oh, and somebody made the point (I’m too lazy at the moment to go back through the thread to find it) that poor kids here are overweight, while in other places there starving to death. I’m sure they thought they were being brilliant, but the point that they’re missing is that the reason poor kids are fat isn’t because they’re eating so well, it’s because cheap food is unhealthy crap. Yes, you can be overweight and malnourished.

  149. Posts 12 and 124 super have made the points of which I was thinking: nearly everyone I’ve ever heard advocating shaming to improve the poor seemed to get off on the prospect of the shaming more than of the poor’s improvement, and fear of falling down the ladder makes many of us want to differentiate ourselves from the suffering.

    I’ll add that the latter behaviour is wide-spread, and is a common reaction and one for which one we should not hate the perpetrators…”I won’t get AIDS because I don’t do _that_,”, “I’m modern and middle-class, they’re poor Ostjüden,”, “Mine is a _good_ nation, we won’t ever do things like _that_.” The facts that you can and you’re like them and we do, and so on, end up being true a good deal of the time has a hard time stacking up against the need to believe that the life that you love (or can tolerate) has a firmer foundation (in God or History or genes or Character or Competence) than it does.

  150. B. Durbin said:

    What would I like? I’d like charity options that are local, focused, and aimed at showing someone who is poor true options, instead of throwing a bunch of paperwork at their heads. What I’m likely to get is some weird hodgepodge of government regulations and departments where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

    I completely agree. I’m the Director of a program serving the homeless in a relatively affluent area of suburban Chicago. Recently, we were just notified that assistance for food (LINK card, formerly food stamps) is limited to three months in a three year period in our area for specific clients. This regulation has been on the books since 96, but has been waived for a while.

    However, this limit doesn’t apply if you engage in enough approved work or work-related activities. I will be the first social worker to admit that some of my clients could be working and are not, and that some fraud occurs. But for the vast majority, mental illness, substance use, and trauma are making it extremely difficult for them to meet these expectations.

    Fortunately, my agency has food pantry access with the only regulations that clients fill out our application form and don’t get violent on premises. We are local and focused, and divorced from a lot of regulation. But it isn’t nearly enough!!! I am grateful for all the help we do get, but without the government grants we have received, we wouldn’t have stayed open. We need both private giving and tax revenue!! Private giving alone is not cutting it.

    Come on people. This is food for the hungry we are talking about!!! Why did we attach regulations like this to it!!! I anticipate running out of food in part because of this change. It’s just so sad that we can’t say to ourselves “Just because a small minority of clients use the system, it won’t stop us from getting food to the hungry quickly and easily.”

    Oh yeah and shaming the poor – would you do it to someone knowing they had been repeatedly raped as a child and teenager, and because of that, had some issues with authority and keeping jobs? You don’t really no the stories behind poverty unless you really talk to people, and frankly, most of being affluent is luck and who you know.

  151. OK, OK, fine. I think I get it.

    Seargent E and company, the reason you should help the [people living on an income at or under what is defined by the U.S. census as poverty levels] of America is because once they are no longer dying of starvation, cold, or untreated medical conditions between their nice solid four walls (well, solid until the next leak in the roof causes drywall damage and insulation rot, or a window breaks, and there’s no spare cash to fix that), then they will be much better able to help you with your saintly work of helping the poor in third world countries.

    There. That motivation enough for you?

    Also: Someone way way way upthread spat out some rhetoric along the lines of “Fine, give your money to those lazy poor people–but not taxes! That’s not your money!” Taxes are, indeed, my money, to the extent that I freakin’ pay them. I want my tax dollars to go towards helping people to stay alive and healthy. You say you pay taxes, too, and you only want to see them being doled out on megacorps and foreign wars? Ooh, that’s a conflict, that is! Too bad we don’t have a system of representative legislation to address it…. wait.

    Finally: “Bootstrapping.” There’s a term that gets abused. “Why don’t you just pull yourself up by your own bootstraps?” people tell the poor, as though it were easy. Ever tried it? Do it now. Bend over, grab your shoelaces, and pull. Get back to me when you succeed at levitating.

    My point is, the phrase “pulled himself up by his own bootstraps” was originally to express admiration at the heroic, near-superhuman effort a person put forth to extricate himself from dire circomstances. When the hell did it become a description of just having a basically decent work ethic? A decent work ethic is admirable, but distressingly often, it’s not nearly enough to put a happy ending on stories such as those told here by, say, my friend Bob Sloan.

    {{Whom I have not spoken with for some very long time, regretfully. Did I ever mention I finally managed to make good on your excellent advice to visit Vaughn’s of a Thursday? Only we were unable to stay long enough for the red beans & rice. Next time, next time…}}

  152. C.E. Petit said:

    Structural unemployment, as those who take intermediate macroeconomics (that is, the beginning of the economics-that-only-economists-take-in-college part of the curriculum), is unemployment that is built in by various inefficiencies of the market system.

    Actually, grad level social workers study that kind of stuff too! It’s mandated by the group that regulates social work education. So, you know, even though some people perceive that we are just touchy feely do-gooders without a brain cell to spare, as a profession we have a good understanding of what causes poverty and what might fix it. Problem is, social policy making (i.e. Congress and President, states) are slaves to misguided public opinion.

  153. [Forewarning: my brain's been wonkier than ever in the past couple of months, but tonight I feel all right enough to attempt posting. If I happen to make no sense at all, have pity and just ignore me.]

    It feels to me like Seargent E is mistaking poverty for misery.

    Misery as in not being able to provide for oneself, period. The endless procession of people slowly starving to death, working harder than their body can sustain for next to nothing, exhaustion to the point of not being able to think and the abortion of smiles.
    Misery is the horror of the not enough.

    Poverty is a very different beast. Poverty is three people coming back in their dilapidated home with some lower-end pre-cooked 4 portion food – one of those where “4 portion” means “barely enough for two” – their silence after each has eaten, still hungry, but unwilling to claim the last remaining portion – because then it would mean becoming the cause of the other two’s hunger – and their quiet powerless anger as they go to bed, filled but unsatiated.
    Poverty is the relentless nagging of the barely enough. Poverty is fear of tomorrow and constant anxiety.

    From my personal experience, and by that peculiar definition: misery’s, though always unbearable, could be said worst in poor countries (because when it hits, it hits harder and at whole populations), but poverty happens to be worse in rich countries (because the discrepancy between what one needs and one must/should have to live decently with the rest of the population is much wider).

    (Oh, and a quick hello to Mr. Vos Post. Long time no see. Hope you’re doing ok.)

  154. The question is: can a market (or mostly) economy survive and prosper without the fear of poverty? Conservatives, being sceptical of goodness in “human nature”, tend to believe not.

    Can we afford to eliminate poverty? I think so: I’ve heard so many paeans to the amazing productivity of the Free Market, much of which seem true to me, that I think it can stand a little bleed-off—or, as tech improves, a lot—to put a comfortable floor below it (or, if you prefer, a gymn mat below the ladder of success). It also seems to me that if The Market is so unstable against perturbation that _any_ Gummint Interference will ruin it, then it is so unstable that it represents an unknowable ideal—anything that can only work if everything needed for it to work goes _just_ right should only be taken seriously by stoned college students (see: the invasion of Iraq as gateway to a democratic Middle East—that whole plan reeked of a dorm room at 3a.m.).

    Should we eliminate poverty? Morality differs from person to person, but I think so: I think suffering is worthless, and I don’t want to live in a world based on reducible fear. I don’t like being afraid, and I think people act more irrationally when they ‘re afraid (see: the popularity of the Hell-believing faiths). For all its faults, I think “the Sixties” were a good thing, and were primarily conditioned by a wave of prosperity that made people less afraid, and less willing to kow-tow to authority. There was a report (I believe by Rand Corp.) in the early Seventies that believed so, which excites my paranoia a little, but I think our no longer being the only non-destroyed major industrial power had more to do with our troubles since than any conspiracy to keep our population docile through fear, though the latter effect probably gave some postive feedback to our owners and rulers….

    I believe that Libertarians are sincere when they say (if they do, not all do) that their vision for the future would create, in effect, “prosperity too cheap to meter”, but I’m concerned that the attitudes they promulgate will result in our metering it anyway….

  155. Without shaming the poor how would the better-off be able to know that their comfort was divinely ordained? There’s only such much humanity to go around, and the more I drain from you the more I can have for myself. Otherwise, stuffing my face with one hand while dialing my video-equipped cell phone with the other, and steering my gas-guzzling SUV past food banks to my suburban megachurch that preaches the Gospel of Wealth would kind of make me a jerk, right? But we know, a priori, that I’m not a jerk, so spending 50% of my disposable income on a high-def TV must be morally superior to having no disposable income at all. The poor should feel ashamed, in the end, because somebody has take the moral fall for our society maintaining such dizzying levels of inequality, and it ain’t gonna be me.

    (note for the irony-impaired: you should feel ashamed if you think I’m serious. Not getting a joke is almost as sinful as being poor. Also, God hates people whose sports teams beat mine, and He should smite those in front of me in line. Any line, anywhere, any time.)

  156. Very, very well put, John.

    Poverty is motivation enough to get out of poverty.

    Anyone who thinks that people need to be shamed out of poverty should live a poor person’s life for awhile.

    And anyone who thinks that a poor child should be shamed for being poor needs their mouth sewn shut.

    I’m going to link to this from my blog. It should be spread around.

  157. Great points about leaving the concept of “shame” out of it when we help others & Thanks for pointing out that Jesus never used “shame” as part of his teachings – (although the bible often mentions that those who felt the sting of his better example felt ashamed anyway.)

    Much of your article seemed to be saying that conservative-types want to heap shame upon those whom they purport to help – and when that is applicable, your point is well made.

    Now if only you can get the liberals to stop using “shame” as a tactic to raise even higher taxes for the ineffective welfare systems that the Federal Government has no business running.

  158. Don’t believe one optimistic word from any public figure about the economy or humanity in general. They are all part of the problem. Its like a game of Monopoly. In America, the richest 1% now hold 1/2 OF ALL UNITED STATES WEALTH. Unlike ‘lesser’ estimates, this includes all stocks, bonds, cash, and material assets held by America’s richest 1%. Even that filthy pig Oprah acknowledged that it was at about 50% in 2006. Naturally, she put her own ‘humanitarian’ spin on it. Calling attention to her own ‘good will’. WHAT A DISGUSTING HYPOCRITE SLOB. THE RICHEST 1% HAVE LITERALLY MADE WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. Don’t fall for any of their ‘humanitarian’ CRAP. ITS A SHAM. THESE PEOPLE ARE CAUSING THE SAME PROBLEMS THEY PRETEND TO CARE ABOUT. Ask any professor of economics. Money does not grow on trees. The government can’t just print up more on a whim. At any given time, there is a relative limit to the wealth within ANY economy of ANY size. So when too much wealth accumulates at the top, the middle class slip further into debt and the lower class further into poverty. A similar rule applies worldwide. The world’s richest 1% now own over 40% of ALL WORLD WEALTH. This is EVEN AFTER you account for all of this ‘good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS from celebrities and executives. ITS A SHAM. As they get richer and richer, less wealth is left circulating beneath them. This is the single greatest underlying cause for the current US recession. The middle class can no longer afford to sustain their share of the economy.. Their wealth has been gradually transfered to the richest 1%. One way or another, we suffer because of their incredible greed. We are talking about TRILLIONS of dollars. Transfered FROM US TO THEM. Over a period of about 27 years. Thats Reaganomics for you. The wealth does not ‘trickle down’ as we were told it would. It just accumulates at the top. Shrinking the middle class and expanding the lower class. Causing a domino effect of socio-economic problems. But the rich will never stop. They will never settle for a reasonable share of ANYTHING. They will do whatever it takes to get even richer. Leaving even less of the pie for the other 99% of us to share. At the same time, they throw back a few tax deductable crumbs and call themselves ‘humanitarians’. Cashing in on the PR and getting even richer the following year. IT CAN’T WORK THIS WAY. Their bogus efforts to make the world a better place can not possibly succeed. Any ‘humanitarian’ progress made in one area will be lost in another. EVERY SINGLE TIME. IT ABSOLUTELY CAN NOT WORK THIS WAY. This is going to end just like a game of Monopoly. The current US recession will drag on for years and lead into the worst US depression of all time. The richest 1% will live like royalty while the rest of us fight over jobs, food, and gasoline. Crime, poverty, and suicide will skyrocket. So don’t fall for all of this PR CRAP from Hollywood, Pro Sports, and Wall Street PIGS. ITS A SHAM. Remember: They are filthy rich EVEN AFTER their tax deductable contributions. Greedy pigs. Now, we are headed for the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time. SEND A “THANK YOU” NOTE TO YOUR FAVORITE MILLIONAIRE. ITS THEIR FAULT. I’m not discounting other factors like China, sub-prime, or gas prices. But all of those factors combined still pale in comparison to that HUGE transfer of wealth to the rich. Anyway, those other factors are all related and further aggrivated because of GREED. If it weren’t for the OBSCENE distribution of wealth within our country, there never would have been such a market for sub-prime to begin with. Which by the way, was another trick whipped up by greedy bankers and executives. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. The credit industry has been ENDORSED by people like Oprah, Ellen, Dr Phil, and many other celebrities. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. Now, there are commercial ties between nearly every industry and every public figure. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. So don’t fall for their ‘good will’ BS. ITS A LIE. If you fall for it, then you’re a fool. If you see any real difference between the moral character of a celebrity, politician, attorney, or executive, then you’re a fool. WAKE UP PEOPLE. ITS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. The 1% club will always say or do whatever it takes to get as rich as possible. Without the slightest regard for anything or anyone but themselves. Reaganomics. Their idea. Loans from China. Their idea. NAFTA. Their idea. Outsourcing. Their idea. Sub-prime. Their idea. The commercial lobbyist. Their idea. The multi-million dollar lawsuit. Their idea. $200 cell phone bills. Their idea. $200 basketball shoes. Their idea. $30 late fees. Their idea. $30 NSF fees. Their idea. $20 DVDs. Their idea. Subliminal advertising. Their idea. Brainwash plots on TV. Their idea. Prozac, Zanex, Vioxx, and Celebrex. Their idea. The MASSIVE campaign to turn every American into a brainwashed, credit card, pharmaceutical, love-sick, couch potatoe, celebrity junkie. Their idea. All of the above shrink the middle class, concentrate the world’s wealth and resources, and wreak havok on society. All of which have been CREATED AND ENDORSED by celebrities, athletes, executives, entrepreneurs, attorneys, and politicians. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. So don’t fall for any of their ‘good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS. ITS A SHAM. NOTHING BUT TAX DEDUCTABLE PR CRAP. Bottom line: The richest 1% will soon tank the largest economy in the world. It will be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. and thats just the beginning. Greed will eventually tank every major economy in the world. Causing millions to suffer and die. Oprah, Angelina, Brad, Bono, and Bill are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A MULTI-MILLIONAIRE HUMANITARIAN. EXTREME WEALTH HAS MADE WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. WITHOUT WORLD PROSPERITY, THERE WILL NEVER BE WORLD PEACE OR ANYTHING EVEN CLOSE. GREED KILLS. IT WILL BE OUR DOWNFALL. Of course, the rich will throw a fit and call me a madman. Of course, their ignorant fans will do the same. You have to expect that. But I speak the truth. If you don’t believe me, then copy this entry and run it by any professor of economics or socio-economics. Then tell a friend. Call the local radio station. Re-post this entry or put it in your own words. Be one of the first to predict the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time and explain its cause.. WE ARE IN BIG TROUBLE.

  159. Anyone can be made poor, and quickly, by a sufficiently bad run of luck, unusual circumstances, etc.

    The problem with talking about “the poor” is that they are viewed as an undifferentiated mass. They are not.

    There are the poor who didn’t used to be. Mostly, they won’t be poor for that long, but occasionally circumstances are so severe that it will take awhile, if ever.

    There are the poor who come from a background of poverty, but are doing things that will help them get out of it. They, also, won’t be poor for long, again barring unforeseen circumstances.

    There are the poor who are on the wrong end of a multigenerational pattern of poverty. The children in this group deserve our compassion. The adults in this group deserve to feel whatever shame is involved in recognizing their own contributions to the situation, and their own PERSONAL responsibility to do something about it, even if only for their children’s sake.

    If you finish high school, don’t make babies till you’re married, stay married, stay out of jail, and don’t get addicted, you will not stay poor for long in the USA, unless you simply refuse to try. For sure, your *children* won’t be poor, if they stay with the pattern of decent behavior you’ve established.

    Multigenerational poverty *in the USA* is mostly a values problem, transmitted from generation to generation. Nothing will fix it except attention to those values just listed in the previous paragraph. When someone is bleeding internally, you start an IV, maybe transfuse, but you do what you must to stop the bleeding. Virtually all government based solutions are largely of the bandaid/transfusion variety because they do not address values.

    We need to be willing to “provide transfusions” as long as it takes for the people who really have no way of taking care of themselves, the mentally ill and disabled, etc. And helping people who have fallen on hard times, temporarily, is only being a decent neighbor.

    But when poverty activists fail to differentiate the causes of poverty for different populations claiming services, fail to acknowledge the need for personal responsibility in alleviating poverty, and advocate programs that co-dependently help poor people stay poor, the rest of us are justified in looking askance.

    As always, the children suffer. The solution is not to hand money to the poeple who put them in the situation, and who keep them there, and who train those same children to do it again to the next generation.

  160. The only thing I didn’t like about this article is that this still needs to be said.

    Beautiful work.

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