Miscellaneous content from the original enlightened caveman. Some serious, some not. Take your chances.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Being Poor is Whose Fault? The Time Horizon of Maturity Reprise

Neal Boortz, my favorite radio guy, is fond of saying that poverty is a mental disease, that poor people are poor because they keep doing things that make people poor. It's all about choices, says the talkmaster. I tend to agree, but there's more to it than that. I concede that making bad decisions is the fastest way to get poor and stay poor. However, the question on my mind has to do with the culpability of people who consistently make bad decisions. What if the reason so many folks make consistently bad decisions is beyond their control? Then what? Then is it reasonable to advocate a social system that dooms these truly unfortunate souls to the perpetual motion machine of poverty?

I can almost hear the gasps. Here I am, one who pleads regularly for more personal responsibility, taking the blame off the individual. Allow me to elaborate. As I've mentioned before, a major component of human development is what I call the time horizon of maturity. This basically refers to one's ability to project him or herself into the future to actually envision the consequences of actions that are being taken in the present. Children have a very short time horizon, and this is mostly a function of their limited understanding of the concept of time in general. As they grow up, however, they come to understand time, and if they're raised in the right kind of environment, they come to be able to imagine themselves in the future. This is the key to making good decisions.

Many liberal-minded people think of conservatives as heartless because conservatives don't often display a great deal of sympathy for people who have had the chance to do something with their lives but they simply haven't. Indeed, as I myself have said many times, I went to public school. I could have kicked back and lived the high life (literally) every day , but I wanted a future that would not allow it. How is it fair that someone should be rewarded with part of my success (in the form of benefits that come from my tax dollars) for doing nothing, for contributing nothing? Though it has been a bit discomforting, the idea has been steadily dawning on me over the last year or so that maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the libs have gotten this one right...at least partly right - they've correctly identified the problem.

Imagine an 8-year old white boy named Jimmy. His father left shortly after he was born. His mother, Lila, has tried to work but she's been fired again and again for poor attendance - some due to looking after Jimmy, some due to looking after herself a little too much. Now she's on welfare. She gets food stamps and a check every month. They also live in government housing. Jimmy's neighborhood is tough, even for 8-year olds. Most of the kids hate school and ditch it whenever they can. Jimmy is no different. When the school calls home to notify Lila, she's too engrossed in daytime TV to care. Besides, she never exactly liked school herself. Now, the question, the one I can't shake is this: when 20 years goes by and Jimmy is a derelict in his neighborhood (if he's still alive), was it his fault that he never got his act together?

The answer revolves around whether or not he possesses the ability to see the future...with himself in it. I am more and more convinced that most people in poverty simply do not. If you say to someone, "You must study for this test in order to pass this course," it means nothing if passing the course means nothing to that person. Passing a course is not an end in itself. It is the means to an end. In order for one to be motivated by this line of reasoning, he or she must be able to internalize the personal significance of passing the course. More importantly, the significance has to be more powerful than whatever immediate gratification must be foregone in the studying. So you can't just pound home the platitude that you have to stay in school to succeed in life. It's like a foreign language to one who cannot see the future, and we cannot hold this person responsible for not speaking a language that they have no experience with. This, more than anything else, is the poverty problem, and our society is not addressing it at all.

What are we to do? This is the big question. Here, I must side with my fiscally conservative brethren in saying that income redistribution is not the answer, at least not as it is done today. You can't give money to someone who lives for today and expect them to do anything but spend it as fast as possible. This is the phenomenon that explains the staggering number of lottery winners who end up in jail for failing to pay taxes on everything they buy and for defaulting on massive debts. No, money is not the answer. We need widespread prognostication education.

One way or another, we have to get to the people currently in poverty and teach them to envision themselves experiencing the consequences of their decisions. We have to teach them to teach their children the same thing. We have to go back to basics. It's all about action and reaction. As we do when teaching anything complex, we must start small and work our way up. We need to be able to diagnose where people are and then get them in a program to see further and further into the future. When we have a nation of amateur prognosticators, we can feel justified in holding them accountable for their actions. Until that time, we should be careful with our judgement. We should thank luck and circumstance that it is not we who see tomorrow so much fuzzier than we see today.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course a lot of what you and the Boortz man say is "generally true". Let us not forget that Neal is in the entertainment business and part of his job is to create controversy. He needs to grossly generalize to get people fired up. He wants people calling up to say he is wrong, not all poor people are a product of bad decisions. I'd say if old Neal read this blog he would probably agree with what youy have to say.

Jimmy's dad split, mom had to work misc. jobs and was lazy. Neils answer, Mom & Dad were stupid to have that kid. This is great and probably true, but Jimmy is a victim in this case of being born into a bad situation.

So, to generalize even more, geography is probably more of a factor affecting poverty than the "time horizon of maturity" or ignorance. Take a global look at things. If the enlightened Caveman was born in a third world country, chance are he would be poor. He could have two loving parents, tons of books and be the most educated "mo-fo" around..but chances are he would still be poor. Now, take that enlightened caveman and put him on a boat to the united states. He opens up a chain of Blimpies and becomes another American success story.

My point is that Neal is grossly over-generalizing the issues affecting poverty. You are throwing in a general trait of human nature, yes kids are self centered and cant see past the next fix of cookies and milk.

I believe education, a strong family unit, and opportunity are what enable individuals to succeed. If you don't have the wits to make the right decision, if you were raised by a couple of morons and you live in a society that offers no opportunity..you don't have a good chance of succeeding.

I also don't believe there will ever be a system that will address ALL of the roadblocks which impact "poverty".

Neal hates Public education and rightfully so..however I believe its a problem that if "properly" addressed can help solve a lot of the issues w/ poverty in the United States. The problem is working with our current govt. system and social policies to address education is virtually impossible. We need educational reform in the scale of what Bush is trying to do w/ the IRS and Taxes. Education in this country needs to be completely overhauled.


12/21/2004 07:50:00 AM

Blogger Michael Gersh said...

Poverty has always been with us, and I suspect that it always will. What we can meaningfully change, IMHO, is the level of privation that poverty brings. We are lucky enough to live in a country where hunger and homelessness are only suffered by the insane, as plenty of food and housing are made available to the poor and/or needy. The only thing that our government and charities can not provide to the needy is status. Indeed, when put this way, the very idea is outlandish. Who else but the poor should suffer low status? Somebody has to occupy the lowest rungs of society's ladder.

Since it is difficult to see where we can do anything more for the needy in the areas of housing and food, we can only improve their lot by the improvement of their education. This is a very difficult problem, since the public education authorities have proven over many years that they are more interested in profiting from their sinecures than truly improving the lot of their charges, the answer must lie in the private sector. History has proven that capitalism is a system that will fill any demand, while bureaucracy is a system that will strive mightily to increase its budget and expand its power. Clearly some sort of public/private option must enter and grow in the area of education of the lower status families' children.

Other than that, poverty can only be eliminated by a steep decrease in the cost of energy, which is the key cost of everything in our world. Until cheap and clean energy is available, the difference in living standards between the lowest status people and the middle class will continue. We will always have an underclass to undertake the grimiest jobs in our society, and we will always have people who choose to allow others to do the work, just as we will always have a priveleged class. The only practical adjustment that mankind can make is to elevate those with the worst jobs over the lazy and crazy who will not or can not provide for themselves. Over the last hundred or so years, every single utopian project, from communism to tiny communes, has failed as soon as the (highly motivated) leaders pass on from the scene. We are stuck with humanity as it is, so, any change in society will be incremental. As Khan said, "How little man himself has changed!"

12/21/2004 03:25:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok I had to check on that quote Michael, you made me laugh.

Star Trek:
Khan Noonian Singh: In fact I am surprised how little improvement there has been in human evolution; oh, there has been technical advancement, but, ah, how little man himself has changed.

Classic, scary, but classic.

I agree that some privitazation of education is absolutely necesarry, good point.


12/21/2004 08:00:00 PM

Blogger Sladersaan said...

The assessment on Boortz's motives are correct. He wants the ratings. If all his listeners agreed with him and no controversy existed, he'd be out of a job.

With that let me state that I agree with the talkmaster on this one. I have checked my sensitivity at the door. Sorry. The answer lies within the decision making of the individual. I would investigate further. Where are the grandparents?? Aunts?? Uncles?? Friends?? How has the situation eroded to this point?? I will say it, the women should have kept her legs closed. Period. If she could not afford to raise the child, she should have kept her legs closed. If she does not possess the proper parenting skills, she should have kept her legs closed.

As a single parent, I can sympathize with workplace absenteeism, a little. As a problem solver, I can tell single parents there is ALWAYS a way. The anwser may not be the desired solution. So what. Bite the bullet. Quit worrying about yourself. When I hear or read about this scenario I am always reminded of the scene from The Godfather Part II with Hyman Roth telling Micheal Corleone "This is the life we have chosen." How fitting. Look at your decision making to solve your problems. Not goverment.

We have to get away from government reliance. This includes education. I can think of an immediate solution to some of the education problems..... allow parents to CHOOSE which public school they want their child to attend. If they are willing to drive 60 miles one way twice a day, who cares.

Which leads me to this point, I believe the majority of the people receiving government assistance do not need it. They have figured out a way to work the system to get what they want. If we made it easier to work for a living than to get welfare, imagine the possibilities. Quit being so damn sensitive. Every time they show up to get a check, give them paperwork to fill out that is longer than a mortgage appilcation. What are they filling out?? Who cares. Throw them in the trash when they are done. Make it hard. One of the best ideas Boortz has is the neon light over the checkout counter stating "FOOD STAMPS HERE". Make it an embarassment to be on goverment assistance.

I have been adament about 2 things for over 15 years now. I would drug test all welfare recipients. Privacy laws be damned. You want my money, don't do drugs. You want to do drugs, get a f'n job. I would limit government funds to 90 days. Day 91, your on your own. Bye-Bye. Good luck.

Why should little Jimmy make better decisions?? He has been around situations where his mother did very little for what they have. Little Jimmy will fall into the same trap, not because of public education but because of the ability to be reliant on goverment to solve his problems. Cut off the funds, different decisions will be made. There needs to be a consequence. His mother should have kept her legs closed.

I agree that we need to teach those in poverty to make better decisions. Education could be an answer. The way I would "educate" them is to quit giving them money. That would be a good start.

12/23/2004 10:37:00 AM

Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

OK, so Sladersaan's sentiment is exactly what I'm talking about. It's easy to say that a single mom should not have had a kid if she couldn't afford it. That's absolutely correct. But we don't get to play the hand of cards she was holding the night she got knocked up. We're playing today's cards, and right now, she's on welfare. The question is what do we do about it?

Why not cut off benefits and let necessity take its course? I think this would work for 80+% of the people on the dole. However, the other 20% would make the solution unbearable - if only for political reasons.

The Europeans often praise their generous welfare systems saying that poverty causes crime, and that they're willing to give more of what they have to keep people who would otherwise commit crimes off the street and well-fed.

There's some truth in this. If we just pull the rug out from under some people, they will NOT rise to the occasion. They will self-destruct and take others down with them - desperation is an ugly thing. Even well-meaning people will fail if they cannot overcome the time horizon problem. If they can't conceptually grasp the notion of consequences that occur more than 48 hours into the future, no tough love solution is going to work on them.

Don't get me wrong - I also believe there are far too many people on welfare - people who could be gainfully employed but are flat-out lazy. However, as I get older, I am finding it harder and harder to just say fuck em. I really believe we can do better than that.

12/26/2004 12:16:00 AM


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