Sunday, October 24, 2010

Using math, people figure out that the rent is so high in many places that even with two minimum wage jobs, you're barely making it. It's so high that even if you wore sacks as pants, never watched cable on that cheap tv you got from extremely suspicious merchants, and only ate stone cut lentils, you'd be in the same position, but really miserable.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I've been trying to figure out why this 'culture of poverty' stuff bothers me. Some have written beautifully on environmental factors, and some have spoken on the effects of growing up poor.

I guess one thing that bothers me is that it's not just the language of Rohan and the language of Mordor, and those who can speak both are able to move fluidly- it's the idea that the language of Rohan is somehow the language everyone should speak, forever more, and that the language of Mordor has no grace or poetry to it. I don't agree with that- the ways people live are always both beautiful and terrible, because humans are like that. By focusing on what we think is 'terrible', even if we ourselves are doing the same 'terrible' things, we miss the whole rest of people's lives.

I was reading slackitivst and people were talking about the parable of the prodigal son. And I think some of the people talking about the culture of poverty are like the older brother. Instead of rejoicing that the poor can at least have something in their bellies, even if we don't like what they eat, or can enjoy some of the good of society, even if we think that their choices are wrongity wrong wrong, we sit in resentment. If only we could change their dysfunctional culture! If only they'd see the light! But..even if we think they should live like this or that, maybe we can let go of the feeling that because someone is poor, we should be able to control their lives.

Because, at base, this is what our whole culture of poverty ideology is about. It's not about discussing people's experiences equally- it's about saying that if only poor folks had made the same choices as us, or choices we think everyone should make, they wouldn't be poor. That's why I don't like it. The idea that people who are richer are somehow better than the poor. That there's one right path to get through life, and if you deviate, you're wrong, even if you're adjusting to the circumstances of your life.

And I don't want to have that power. I don't want to be in people's bedrooms, questioning if they are having sex the 'right' way, with the 'right' person. I don't want to be at people's doctor's appointments, trying to make them not have children they want. I don't want to be in people's mailboxes, and bank accounts, trying to make them spend their money the right way.

To say that I know how you should live your life...that's arrogant. I know I'm arrogant, but to give yourself that much power, you're giving yourself an equal amount of responsibility. The world is not under our control. To say that you know the right way for millions of people! Feel the hubris of that!

To say you know when they should have kids, what they should eat, what they should spend their money on, what they should value... It makes me dizzy to think of it. Maybe we should try to be more humble. Instead of approaching people with "You should...", maybe we should try to listen to others sometimes.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I'm thinking about the rat fable David Sedaris read on This American Life. BTW: Some time ago, I heard Sedaris read at the Canon Center, and he said that he had a lot of them and didn't know what to do with them. Now he does. Anyway, he's amazing, squee,etc. But yes, I really dislike people that Sedaris is satirizing with the rat character. On an irrational level, it feels like bad luck. I'm a grumpy guts, and I'm way less sick than many beautiful people who love life and help others. Thinking that they must have secretly done something wrong seems overly distrusting, especially if they are out saving the lives of babies instead of playing Civilization 5 for a zillion hours, and less logical than simply thinking that can't help that they have breast cancer or lupus, etc.

The American belief that the individual has almost mystical powers bothers me on a deep level, that sadly for this blog, I can't quite articulate. All success is on an individual's shoulders, but also all failures, and that's too heavy for one person to bear.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Now, I'm not a positive person. I don't tell others to smile or that their problems are unimportant because of the starving kids in Africa. But I think that some paths to problem solving are dead ends of despair. And one of those dead ends is thinking that getting people to make decisions you approve of is the path to societal change. It can be fun in small doses- I like getting riled up and complaining as much as anyone. However, if all we got is telling our cousin Mookie, random acquaintances in the grocery store, and strangers on the internet to close their legs, to not choose to parent when they want to parent, to stop drinking all that soda, well, we're doomed to failure.

People rarely change their behavior because someone says so. For example, I hear all about how fast food is horrible. There are websites and national campaigns against eating factory farmed meat products. But I still eat it. Why? Several factors- it's quick and I can go to a fast food place without being late for work tasks, it's avaliable, it tastes better than food I make myself, occasionally others buy it for me, it's familiar and comforting.

If you want me to stop eating McDonalds, a lecture won't work. You're going to have to identify my reasons. You can't do this by arm chair psychoanalysis. If you want to change the behavior of one person, you'll have to actually try to talk to them on their level. Figure out what drives their behavior and what help they want, instead of what you think they need. Then instead of focusing on their behavior- focus on your own. How can you promote the opening of restaurants with quick, healthy, and inexpensive food? It may take work- the good part of the finger wagging is that you don't have to do anything. All you have to do is complain, and complaining is fun.

But it's passive. You're waiting for others to come around and see your obvious rightness. You feel productive, but you're standing still. In terms of social change, you might as well have been writing Gakuen Alice fanfic. In which they are all furries.