Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Son of Completely Beside the Point

with 10 comments

Okay, okay.

I will get back to The Defense (Part 13?) in a day or two.

All I can say in my own defense–and it’s not much of a defense–is that dealing with the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation is the thing that makes me most nervous about that entire exposition.  It’s the part I’m least sure of.  

I’m on surer ground with results of the Counterreformation–but then, the effects of the Reformation include the founding of this country,and that founding (and the assumptions on which it was based) speak to these little asides, too.

So, just to make everybody unhappy:

Cathy says that when we train people in the “helping” professions (and I think the “helping” ALWAYS requires quotes) we try to teach  them that the people they deal with are not inherently helpless, but it doesn’t usually take–

I don’t think it can take, for most of them.  They are entering a profession in which it is in their best interests to have the largest possible number of people be permanently helpless.  Helpless people create more work for helpers and more demand for new helpers. They expand the scope and power of helping agencies.  They create pressure on governments to increase the funding for those agencies.  They even increase the size and money accorded to programs to teach people to be helpers in those agencies.

I’m not saying I think this is conscious or deliberate.  I just think the underlying structure of this situation is such that it will inevitably lead to pressure in one direction and one direction only:  the direction of defining more and more human beings of being incapable of leading their lives without “help.”

This is why I have always said and still think that the best way to provide social welfare spending is in the form of a negative income tax/earned income tax credit–give them the money if they need it, then go away and leave them alone.

Since a NIT/EIC is dependant on your having income from work, that solves the work problem, too.  You’ve got to have a W-2 form of you don’t get the benefit, and we don’t need an army of investigators to ensure that you’re not cheating.

We also won’t need an army of social workers trying to ensure that beneficiaries are running their lives in the standardly approved “right” way.   More of the money could go to people who, you know, actually need money, and those people would not be required to pay for it in learned helplessness.

We could also have small social service departments meant to take care of people who are undeniably unable to do anything for themselves–but the emphasis would be on voluntary involvement with such services. 

In other words, it’s only help if you ask for it, not if it’s forced on you.

And I’m with Robert on one very important thing–we should leave the interior lives of our citizens alone.  I don’t want the government to have anything to do with my social, moral or ethical functioning.  As long as I don’t commit any crimes and make my own living, they should be out of my–and my family’s–lives.

In the end, I just don’t think the government should be in the business of “fixing” people so that they function like the rest of us.   I especially don’t think it should be in the business of doing that against the will of the individual involved,  or as a condition of providing material aid.

The coercion bothers me in principle–it is, in a way, the establishment of a state Church, the Church of Normal Functioning, with “normal” decided by departments and bureaucracies outside of anybody’s control. 

I don’t even like the idea of ordering people convicted of drug crimes into rehab.  Offer rehab services if you want, but don’t make them part of a sentence or an incentive to getting parole. 

If people voluntarily want to change the way they think, that’s one thing.  If they don’t, they don’t, and they just keep getting arrested and ending up in jail.

Second–the students I teach, even the most remedial of the remedials, are by no means the bottom of anybody’s barrel.

They are, in fact, often the cream of the crop of their neighborhoods.  Their schools may have had standards better fit for ten year olds than eighteen year olds, but they still had some standards, and my kids managed to meet them.   They got themselves through four years of high school and at least nominally graduated, or they wouldn’t be in my classroom.

The bottom of the barrel is considerably less functional than this–they stopped going to school at twelve or fourteen, had their first child around the same time.

And I agree that we arrest people at too high a rate, and that we should legalize drugs and stop incarcerating huge swatches of young men for doing what I don’t think the Constitution gives the government the right to criminalize anyway.  (Tell me again:  why was it exactly that we needed a Constitutional amendment to outlaw liquor, but don’t need one to outlaw heroine and cocaine?)

But in spite of all that, the system as it exists creates a lot of learned helplessness, and it’s not necessarily “welfare” that does it. I’d give at least equal billing to the schools in these neighborhoods, where the key to getting extra money to help run the place often rests on your being able to prove that you have lots of children with “special needs.”

And some of those children will, of course, have “special needs.”  But others will be there because the system encourages ever-expanding definitions of “disability.” 

And defining children as “disabled” teaches them to look at themselves and their possibilities and their lives in a way that does not help them. 

The same is true of demanding that people define themselves as having “disorders” the require “treatment” when they develop bad habits that are hard to break or when they have temperaments well within the range of the historically normal that are not the best way to approach life and need work to control.

Third, certainly it is true that there are free riders in all classes–but they are not all created equal. 

If I have a ne’er do well Uncle Fred, it’s my choice to spend my money to keep him afloat–or not. 

Just as it’s my choice to spend my money on The Da Vinci Code.

This is a far cry from demanding that other people should pay for my Uncle Fred whether they want to or not. 

When you’re spending your money voluntarily, that is not–and should not be–any of my business.  When you’re taking mine, it is.

Finally, I would not put the local drug dealer–or even the local petty thief–into the class I’m talking about here.

Both of those things take a certain amount of initiative.

Written by janeh

October 23rd, 2011 at 10:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

10 Responses to 'Son of Completely Beside the Point'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Son of Completely Beside the Point'.

  1. Actually, I’m in pretty much complete agreement–especially about the EIC and giving up on the notion of illegal drugs, but also about the students not being the bottom of the barrel.

    But what distinguishes them as students, and drives the teachers who want to help them nuts is exactly what their family and neighbors have in greater degree–passivity, you called it earlier. And it is a learned thing. The vast majority of the kids would be fine in a different environment, but it’s a rough transition for an adult, even a young one.

    I wouldn’t resume the draft, but it is one thing military training tries very hard to break people of. A recruit is much better off doing the wrong thing or doing something poorly than explaining how he wasn’t able to do the right thing and so didn’t do anything.

    No, welfare, even broadly defined, isn’t the whole problem, but it is part of the problem, and I would say a major part. Also I’m old enough to remember that the “War on Poverty” wasn’t billed as a way to support the able-bodied in idleness. It was supposed to give people the education and job skills to be productive members of society–to overcome prejudice and see they were healthy enough to work, come to that. Michael’s right: you CAN build an underclass a lot of ways, and most civilizations have. I merely say the one we have now is largely one we went to a lot of trouble to create. I look at our illegitimacy, illiteracy and high school drop-out rates and our long-term unemployment rates, and I think we need a fresh approach.

    I’d say EITC and a ferocious emphasis on educational basics would be the place to start. I have my own quarrels with the modern university, but if we went back to ensuring that every fourth-grader could read and every eighth-grader was fully literate, a lot of other problems would go away.


    23 Oct 11 at 2:43 pm

  2. “…it is in their best interests to have the largest possible number of people be permanently helpless…

    I’m not saying I think this is conscious or deliberate.”

    Sorry, but it is, in fact, conscious and deliberate.


    23 Oct 11 at 3:52 pm

  3. As Robert said, we get what we pay for. As long as funding for programs and businesses is based on recruiting, accepting, and keeping as many clients/customers as possible, whether they really need the product or not, we’ll get what we’ve got.

    Forgiving people who don’t know, or (perhaps) want to know the consequences of what they are doing gets old fast. Living as a civilized person is learned – whether one is a student, client, or customer; teacher, social worker, or salesperson; or doing some level of administration/management.

    There are some fresh approaches. Here in Oklahoma we have Great Expectations http://greatexpectationsok.org


    23 Oct 11 at 7:00 pm

  4. MM, I’m a little hazy here. Which bureaucrat should get to decide whether I “really need” a product? I won’t ask about authority, since obviously the Absolutely Centralized State is authorized to do everything, but the basis of the bureaucrat’s decision would be interesting.

    The people who had to try to sell the Edsel, the Gremlin, the laserdisk, the Betamax or the 20th Century Fox “Cleopatra” might also have a little trouble with the Vance Packard routine.

    Funding for businesses is determined, after start-up phase, by their ability to offer the public something people enjoy or find useful for themselves. Funding for government programs is determined on a rather different basis. Let’s not confuse the two.


    23 Oct 11 at 7:48 pm

  5. WTF is that “Great Expectations” thing? I followed the link, but from their homepage I have no friggin’ clue what they claim to do.


    23 Oct 11 at 8:12 pm

  6. My own experience with ‘helping’ professionals didn’t lead me to believe that that small sample was either consciously or unconsiously trying to expand their ‘client’ base. On the other hand, almost all organizations contain people who want to see the organization at least maintain size and possibly grow. There can be many reasons for this – one might be a conviction that more and more people need to be ‘clients’ but in my opinion, a more common one is that old human tendency to control and increase territory.

    And when you start talking about ‘defining’ children as disabled, you open the door to eliminating the problem by calling it something differen, like ‘special needs’, ‘exceptional’ etc.

    I’ve known lots of disabled people in my day – still do, for that matter – and most if not all of them use ‘disabled’ but certainly don’t consider that the term defines them. Of course, it those cases, we’re not talking about people nearing the extreme of ‘normal’ (another often mis-used term) but not quite off he end of the scale.


    24 Oct 11 at 6:31 am

  7. PS abgrund – click on the ‘about’ link.


    24 Oct 11 at 6:33 am

  8. My attempts to understand government and business (influenced by my liberal arts education) lead me to two conclusions:

    1. Human beings try very hard to make other human beings behave as they “should.”

    2. The attempts are never completely successful.

    The Government (fed, state, local) and Business (big, middle, small) try very hard to get humans to behave as they “should.” The definition of appropriate behavior varies somewhat, and the sucess of attempts varies somewhat. There was Prohibition. There are food handling laws and regulations. There was the Gremlin. There are SUVs in every parking lot.

    Looks to me like funding for government programs is highly influenced by lobbying. Lobbyists, PACs, the Kochs use whatever means might work. Some of the efforts are information. Some of them are great chunks of spam. Business marketing doesn’t look much different. Too bad we can’t chose to buy some other brand of war or regulation of financial institutions as we chose to buy some other brand of shampoo.

    No human being is completely “able” in every respect. Some abilities, like mobility and literacy, are more essential than others. No geopolitical area has perfect roads and schools. What would it take to make governments and businesses behave as they “should,” investing resources in mobility and literacy? (Effective instruction in civilized discourse might be a good first step.)


    24 Oct 11 at 9:56 am

  9. Humans – and their proxies, governments and other institutions – probably try very hard to make others behave as they ‘should’ for reasons rooted in biology and tradition. We’re social animals. We need to belong somewhere – probably because belonging to a group enhanced survival. But, of course, within certain rather broad limits, there are quite a range of groups of behaviours that contribute to the survival of the society and which therefore must be monitors and encouraged/discouraged. From all that, we get to people wanting laws about the colours other people can paint their houses and a drug dealer with killer pit bulls moving in around the corner who can’t be forced out because his landlady figures everyone needs a place to live.

    Anyway, I think the US government has methods by which they can be forced to do their job, although I recently wiggled out of an argument I nearly started by making negative comments about some protesters, and some Americans posting assured me that the US situation is indeed so bad that the middle class is vanishing and mass demonstrations in the street is the only way to influence officials; look at how well it’s working in Egypt and Tunisia.

    So I bit my tongue and posted something anodyne about agreeing to disagree, but surely it’s not that bad? Surely your representatives still want your vote?

    Now, if you can find a way to make them have civilized debates, do let me know. I watched one recently for a provinicial election. I think the commentators watched a different one.


    24 Oct 11 at 12:27 pm

  10. Anyone who can’t be bothered to say anything on their own friggin homepage about who they are or what they do can toss my salad.


    24 Oct 11 at 7:05 pm

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 864 access attempts in the last 7 days.