@Hannibal: I’ll go through your points, one at a time, offering my own commentary on them.
Yes, that would be a reasonable thought. If corporations are people (as per Citizens United), and the Republican philosophy of personal responsibility holds, then corporations should exhibit increased attention towards their responsibilities (such as making sure their employees can eat). The problem is, quite simply, that the people we’re dealing with here aren’t reasonable people. Both Citizens United and the Republican stance on personal responsibility are merely tools used by the parties in each case in order to promote their own agenda at the expense of others.
Citizens United? Not really about the fact that corporations should be treated as people, and more about the allowance of vast corporate funds to buy candidates and therefore elections. I once heard it this way: “If corporations are people, then corporations are psychopaths.” Or egotistic at the very minimum. The Citizens United ruling by SCOTUS is, quite simply, a tool used by the people at the very pinnacle of our society to further steer society along their course.
Personal responsibility? Only exists – in the Republican mindset – at the purely individual level. Take a person at their job. The person is responsible, but the employer is not. I have a friend who works at UPS. The recent plights of two of his coworkers illustrate this. One coworker’s delivery truck got stuck for over an hour on the highway because a semi-truck tipped over on a turn and crushed a car that was unfortunate enough to be there. Despite this not-everyday occurrence – you might expect a little traffic, but not something like this – the company docked him for a couple packages undelivered, even though his choice was to either not deliver and be back on time, or deliver them all and be late (which is equally bad). You are responsible, the coworker was told, you should have figured out that that semi was going to tip over and block traffic for an hour, and planned accordingly. On the flipside, another of his coworkers had his truck break down while out on the job, and he lost a couple of hours while the roadside auto guys showed up, found the issue, and fixed it. Now, the problem that the truck had? That was identified in the last maintenance tune-up done on the company fleet – but the company chose not to fix it, even though the issue was significant enough that it could cause the truck to break down. (As it did.) The company’s response when the driver confronted management? “Hey, that’s not our problem, how were we supposed to know it’d break down now?” IE, it’s not my responsibility to make sure our trucks are running, that’s someone else’s job.
Persons are responsible, employers aren’t. This is because, quite simply, the philosophy of personal responsibility is a BS tactic used to exercise control. You must make all the right decisions, you must do all the right things, you you you. But your boss, or your company? Pssssssh, fuggedaboudit!
I’m not sure how familiar you are with movies, but the ’79 Ridley Scott sci-fi horror classic Alien provides insight into this: the titular alien is trapped on the ship, the Nostromo, along with the crew. The crew is fighting to destroy the alien and survive to return home. They’re making a plan, they’re thinking about how to outwit the alien, etc. And then at a point…two-thirds to three-quarters the way through the movie, the series’ eternal protagonist, Ripley, discovers Special Order 937, which goes:
NOSTROMO REROUTED TO NEW CO-ORDINATES.
INVESTIGATE NEW LIFE FORM. GATHER SPECIMEN.
INSURE RETURN OF ORGANISM FOR ANALYSIS.
ALL OTHER CONSIDERATIONS SECONDARY.
“All other considerations secondary. Crew expendable.” The Company (later named Weyland-Yutani) wanted the alien for their bioweapons program (as was suggested by Ripley in that movie, and then confirmed in sequels). So what if it ends up killing half a dozen people before we can get it? They’re nobodies, we can replace them. That is the mindset of the corporate world. The mindset that says that only the executives, the management, the people ‘who run things’ are truly important, everyone else is just a cog and can always be replaced. Most of us react as Parker did when we run into this: “What about our lives, you son of a bitch?!” But the Company leadership – and this is the diabolical thing – is just like the alien: “unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality,” to quote Ash on the creature and thus the Company of the movie. What was true in that movie is true today – companies (little c this time) have their goals, what they want, and screw anything that might get in their way: “All other considerations secondary.”
Corporate responsibility can only exist when the persons who are in the position to make that happen choose to behave in a human fashion – and they don’t, because responsibility at the top to anyone other than the shareholders/board/etc is drummed out of them at school. Your loyalty is to the company, to make sure it goes on. If you have to step on and squash people along the way, well, that’s just the price of doing business.
These I’m putting together because they’re the same issue to me. Lack of parenting and lack of academic success on the behalf of anyone are inextricably linked. Even if Mom or Dad or both believe that education is the way to improve the lives of their kids (and this is far from a universal belief, to my experience), if they’re not around to communicate their values to their kids, then the kids end up constructing their own value system that, surprise surprise, revolves around them and what they want to do rather than what might be best in the long run for them. Parents need to be able to parent, and in order for that to happen, they need to be freed up from the responsibilities of having to work.
This isn’t to say, though, that parents are solely to blame for their children’s failures. There are a handful of cultural factors in play, too. In places like the inner city school I taught at, it was ‘not cool’ to be the smart guy in the class. It was ‘not cool’ to excel. You were an ‘egghead’ if you did, which usually invited others to beat on you, either verbally or physically.
There’s also what I like to call the “50 Cent” mentality – so named because it became the premier example of this thought pattern while I was there. One of the students in my class, whenever I would sit down with him and try and express that he could do better (and I know he could, I saw it happen) in class, he would usually respond with: “I don’t need to do better, I just need to graduate – my real talent is in rapping, and I’m gonna get discovered and be the next 50 Cent.” To which, if he was feeling particularly boastful that day, he would add: “I’m gonna get all the bitches and be making mad dollars and you’re gonna be stuck in this school teaching idiots getting paid nothing.” (This statement has had some language cleaned up, of course.)
In short: I don’t need to do well in school, because something’s going to happen, I’ll get rich and famous, and I won’t need to do any of this [insert expletive(s)] that you’re telling me I should do. It’s toxic thinking, because the odds are far and away against the scenario they’re describing. More likely, they won’t be discovered, and they’ll end up asking the Philosophy major’s eternal question:
“Would you like fries with that?”
Summary: parents need to be free to parent their kids. But we also need to disabuse ourselves of these idiotic cultural notions that being smart is bad, and that we’ll beat the odds and become famous. It’d be nice if we could, but we should plan our lives on the premise that we’ll be just like everyone else we know. Or maybe slightly better – but not celebrity status.
Maybe. There was a study done a number of years ago, taking people from one particular ethnic background (Western Europe) and looking at diagnosis rates of various disorders like ADHD on both sides of the pond. The common ethnic background was chosen to eliminate as much as possible genetic differences, and the study prioritized families newer to the US (IE, a family that came here 50 years ago was better than one that came here back in 1776). The study found that kids were about 10-12 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD/ADD and other disorders than were their European counterparts. And keep in mind, they tried to control for genetics as much as possible. Now, that part of Europe has pretty much the same level of technology that is present here in the US, and yet their diagnosis rates are much lower there than here. If that dramatic difference cannot be explained with nature, then it must be a nurture question – the environment in which children are raised.
Look here in the US. Everything is go go go, gotta get to this place, gotta do this thing, gotta gotta gotta. The ur-example of this in my mind is hearing parents talk about their schedules. Nobody has time to be a family anymore, to do stuff together like what I remember growing up – Theater & Taco Tuesday! (Dinner & a movie, not always tacos, but sometimes.) Instead, what’s popped up in its place is one of a few things. Either both parents are working, and aren’t really home to parent the kids (the possibility already noted). OR one of the parents is home, and they’re responsible for driving all the kids to soccer practice and piano lessons and all the various extra little things they do so they can put it on their college applications (or on their resume, or whatever). These are kids! They’re no more thinking about college than what they’re going to have for breakfast Tuesday week after next!
In Europe, or at least parts of it, it’s different. Things are more relaxed, less stressed. My sister spent a semester abroad in Spain (part of her double major program), and loved being over there. Why? Because things felt so unhurried compared to the US – when she came back, she missed siesta the most. Siesta, for those unaware, is a part of the Spanish day where all the shops close and everyone takes a collective break. Note – this is in the middle of the day, and usually lasts at least a few hours. That would never happen over here, because to us, those are prime ‘get things done’ hours. Sleep? Pssh, when I’m dead!
(Which, ironically, is what’s happening.) Another prime example is France – they drink wine with at least one meal a day (if not more), and they eat a lot more red meat per person than over here in the US. While we’re over here eating vegetarian snack wraps and drinking bottled water by the bucketload. From a purely scientific perspective, we have the healthier lifestyle – red meat and booze does not a longer life make. And yet, and yet, we have more issues, less life expectancy than the French. Why? There can really be only one answer.
Our culture is toxic. It’s enabled us to get things done and become a world power in less than two centuries of existence, but we’ve gone overboard with it to the point where we literally stress ourselves to death because of the life we’re trying to hold up.
But you are right in that communication – indeed, all our days – are a zero-sum game. If we spend more time on one thing, then we have less time to spend on others. And as someone I knew was fond of saying: “You make time for the things that are important to you.” IE, if watching whatever latest reality show is important to you, then you’ll find a way to get things done so you can watch the show, or to duck out of whatever needs doing so that you can. This illustrates what is important to people, and to a society as a whole.
Increased time talking and media-absorbing online does indeed mean that we do less of it away from our computer screen. Humans are social creatures (unless you happen to be that one guy that is perfectly okay with being a hermit) and need contact with others. Before the Internet, there were pretty much only two ways to do that: face-to-face and via telephone. (There are others, but stick with me.) Telephone calls could get expensive pretty quickly, so usually the phone was for people you wanted to call in town, or the next one over. That leaves face-to-face, IE, getting to know the neighbors.
In retrospect, it makes sense why we made the change. It’s a lot easier to find people like you – or who like the same things you do – online than in life. But our change has caused a breakdown in the community bonds that are quite necessary for a healthy community. As you noted, any relationship needs communication – and the ones holding our neighborhoods together are going.
@Dimir: Okay. Splitting my response here.
You are right – the DEA does not go around pointing guns at people and demanding that they get involved with drugs. And it does come down to a choice to get involved or stay out, in the end. Do I sell? Do I not sell? That said: it can be incredibly hard for minorities not to get involved with drugs, because of cultural pressures I’ve mentioned before. Drug use, or drugs as a career, is a highly-utilized theme by today’s rap artists (the more classical ones, this isn’t necessarily the case – guys like Biggie and Tupac talked about social injustice frequently). And rap artists are frequently treated as the role models or idols of inner city culture, and not just by the black community.
Even if you ignore that, though, one of the major reasons that people get involved in drugs is because, while illegal, it’s highly lucrative. You can make piles and piles of money selling and/or being involved in the drug manufacturing process, as long as you don’t get arrested. For young people trapped in the inner city, desperate to escape, drugs can seem like a viable alternative. Being involved in the drug trade is a choice – but there are times when saying ‘no’ can be supremely hard, especially when you think that if you don’t, you’re going to live in a ghetto for the rest of your life.
Drugs also tend to be on the ‘easier’ side of how to get out of poverty. Look at it from this perspective: you want to get out of the inner city, to do that, you have two options. (I know there can be more, but stick with me here.) You can: go to school for a dozen years, work really hard all that time, and get into college – where you get to work really hard some more for four years, then go out and look for a job. And oh, none of this effort you’re putting in is guaranteed to get you the results you want. There are ten thousand ways that what you’re trying to accomplish can be derailed in some way. The grades you get in school aren’t good enough to get you to college; college turns out to be too hard and you have to drop out; you graduate from college and nobody’s hiring whatever your degree is. Plus, all this time you have to make the right choices over and over and over again. Don’t get pregnant (or get someone pregnant), which means no sex or very careful sex; don’t get involved with drugs; don’t get into trouble with alcohol (which, if you don’t wait until you’re 21, means being very careful); and whatever you do don’t run afoul of the law. Because everything you are and have built can be destroyed in mere moments by comparison if you get arrested and go to jail.
Option B? Get involved with drugs – make lots of money relatively quickly, prove that you’re smart enough to outwit the cops for just a few years, then either you’re the guy running things, or you’ve made enough coin to be able to at least make a start on getting out. Oh, and you can do whatever the hell you want. You want to screw half a dozen girls all in a row? Done. Firewater? Not a problem. Drugs? You’re rolling in them. And you’ll be fine, just as long as you don’t get arrested and sent to jail. But hey, even if you do, you can always get involved again once you’re out.
To sum up: people choose to get involved with drugs because it’s the easy way out, and the thing you’re trying to avoid having happen (go to jail) is something everyone else is trying to avoid, too. For kids with little or no parenting, who lack any sort of self-restraint or ability to control themselves, it’s the perfect solution to their issues. Plus, for minorities, who are already under suspicion by law enforcement, taking the first choice can be really difficult when the cops keep harassing you or your friend even though you’ve done nothing wrong.
In short, yes, while it is a choice to get involved in the drug business, it is not necessarily a 50-50 choice. It’s usually weighted.
Because the fact of the matter is is that people make poor decisions, and this is true regardless of any differentiating factor you might think of. Usually it’s not a decision – it’s more an ‘oh shit, I’m/she’s pregnant’ situation. It’s a panic, and panic does not usually condone good decision making. While it might make more sense for an inner city teen to give up their child for adoption, where they might have a chance to grow up in a better environment, sensible options are not usually the ones immediately exercised. A teenage girl who gets pregnant might be forced to keep their child by their parent or grandparent (or authority figure) who decides that the girl needs a lesson in responsibility, and to teach them that through this experience.
Of course, that is basically using a sledgehammer to break an egg. It’s overkill, mainly because as it’s pointed out, teens are not well-equipped to the task of raising a child. “Babies shouldn’t be having babies” is not a saying for no reason. Young mothers – or first timers, or both – often need help in this task, since they lack experience. The problem is that this help is usually not forthcoming. Why? Simple. The whole reason the daughter got pregnant in the first place is that Mom or Dad wasn’t around to parent them to teach what was right. Now, they’re not gonna be around to parent their kid on being a parent. The absence of an adult presence at home simply magnifies the problem already present.
In short, the problems that led to the child are going to continue to cause problems for when the kid actually gets here.
I knew one teacher on an assignment who worked at another inner city school – she was pregnant while she was, and she knew a number of girls (of a certain ethnic persuasion) who were in her classes that were also pregnant. She told me about the chatter and conversations they were having – about what clothes they were going to dress their new kids up in; about how wonderful it was that they were going to have someone who loves them (supposedly everyone else ‘hated’ them); about how their one child development class had them all ready for a kid.
To sum up: they talked about their kids like they were dolls, or pets, rather than living, breathing human beings that, quite frankly, require a lot of care and time and effort and energy. Not only did they lack true understanding of how difficult it is to raise kids, but far, far worse: they thought they were all prepared and ready for it because of one class that lasted a semester in high school. They, as do many in their situation, far underestimated the task that they were undertaking; if they did understand the enormity of raising a kid, then they might not be so eager to have them, or at least adopt them out.
For birth control, that is sometimes not available because either A: too expensive, or B: requires parental consent in order to acquire. In the case of B, no teen is going to admit to their parents they’re having sex. Well, okay, you might get a few, but no sizeable percentage. Plus, nearly all birth control methods have a failure rate – it can be a very very low failure rate, but the only guaranteed way to not get pregnant is to not have sex.
Minority advocates don’t usually talk about this for the same reason nobody else talks about it: people tend to react poorly when told to behave a certain way, even if the person speaking is highly respected by the community. “Whatever! I do what I want!” Is the classic response to something like that. Or its very close cousin, “who are you telling me what I can and can’t do?” This is a human impulse – we’re all guilty of doing it, across any possible line you can think of. As a teacher (more of an aspiring one, really), I see this happen to colleagues quite a bit, usually when confronted by defiant students and/or their parents. “You can’t tell me what to do!” “Who are you telling me how to raise my kid?” (And parents will rip into the object of their ire if the teacher doesn’t have any of their own.) This despite the fact that the teacher might actually have some salient points that could help performance in school.
@ Oniya: Racism has never really gone away. It’s just changed forms. Back in my grandparent’s day, it was perfectly okay for you to treat black persons like second-class citizens (and seems it doing so was required in some parts of the South, usually the deeper ones). Now? That’s not okay. That’s wrong, it’s bad, we’re not supposed to do that. But, (to quote a conversant friend of mine, the “urge to punch down” hasn’t diminished at all in those people. How dare you try and pretend you’re as good as me?!
And other such thoughts. Rather than give up their spiteful logic, though, they just changed it.
I remember an interview Jon Stewart had with a couple women who made a documentary about people being hungry here in the US. They referred to the late 60s documentary “Hunger in America,” and noted that within a few years of that series airing, the US had effectively solved
the problem of people going without food. So, came the natural question, if we solved the problem, why do we have it again, now?
Because, the women explained, once the 80s rolled around, the conversation about people receiving government assistance (a lot of which had been done by Nixon, that dirty communist) changed. The conversation now was about moochers, and takers, and people getting a free ride on the backs of hardworking, decent Americans. And thus began the campaign against “welfare queens” and their ilk.
The persons responsible changed their ideas just enough to be able to continue to punch down on minorities, but not to look like they were doing it because they were minorities. No, now they’re doing it because they’re poor, and you can’t really outlaw being poor. So all this effort is being expended in making sure minorities don’t escape poverty, because once they do, then all this dialogue about how they’re lazy and moochers no longer applies to them, because they’re successful. That change in ideas, however, forced them to incorporate other parts of America that are also poor – I think I read somewhere that impoverished whites receive more government aid than any other group…but of course, when you typically hear about moochers, do you hear about them?
I remember watching a TED Talk about the War on Drugs, and the guy giving the talk was actually ballsy enough to make this statement: “If old white guys wanted to do coke, and black men were clamoring for Viagra, coke would be legal and having a little blue pill could get you arrested!” That is, perhaps, the ur-example of this issue today.
In short: the people in power want to keep their right to punch down, and will change their logic and reasons for doing so to anything that they can make work.
The “Valjean Effect.” I’ll have to remember that one. You are entirely right, of course. If prison is supposed to rehabilitate someone, make them into a positive, contributing member of society, then why do we display this lack of trust on their part? From where I sit, it’s probably a combination of factors.
A: we don’t actually believe that prison rehabilitates people. This might be truer than you think, given the fact that we know of high recidivism rates amongst ex-cons. If this is true, though, and we really do believe this, then why are we spending all this money and time and effort to try and rehab them if we don’t believe that it will work? To make us feel better about putting them in prison?
B: people are naturally wary of those who have committed crimes. If you’re looking for an accountant, and one of the people applying to you has a history of embezzlement, how likely are you going to be to hire that person? Someone who has committed a crime has broken the public trust, do you want to put someone like that in a position where they might be able to really mess things up?
C: I hate to keep harping on it, but racism, again. A disproportionate number of minorities end up in prison based on their percentage composition of our society. Denying them anything but the most basic levels of employment functions quite well to keep them in poverty and the inner cities, which further reinforces the false discourse about them being lazy and shiftless and just mooching off the government. Of course, this is unfair, but since when has fairness been the order of the day?
D: You mentioned the ease of prosecuting (and thus convicting) low-income persons as opposed to high-income ones. Now, imagine that you’ve been prosecuted for theft from Burger King (your workplace) and have spent your time being reformed. When you get out, you’re not suddenly going to get a promotion and now suddenly be regional VP for Burger King New England. No, you’re going to have to start at the bottom and work your way up, again. This is perhaps the most reasonable out of all the factors – except for the fact that it never really seems to matter how long you’ve been good, how hard you’ve been working, you’re never really earning anyone’s trust back, they just all seem to be waiting for you to go and break the law all over again. In short, you get out, you start back at the bottom…but you’re never given a chance to prove yourself and thus advance. In which case, why bother trying to go legit at all, since people are never going to trust you, and you’ll never make as much money as you were when you were a thief?