All are responsible

Snowfall in America brings with it, inevitably, a blizzard of "jokes" about the alleged absurdity of global warming. All of these jokes have two things in common: 1) they mention Al Gore, and 2) they're not actually funny.

Being funny isn't the point of these jokes, so it's not surprising that they fail to achieve funniness. What is surprising, though, is that so many people feel compelled to tell "jokes" that aren't actually jokes — jokes that neither attempt nor achieve funniness. What is the point of such "jokes"? They're like cars without wheels — why on earth would anyone bother making such a thing?

I have a theory. This is just speculation, and I might be wrong. But then again, I might be right.

The great philosopher and activist Abraham Joshua Heschel said, "Few are guilty; all are responsible."

That's a wise and important distinction, but it's also an eminently practical one. The good rabbi, I suspect, arrived at this formulation partly as a way of inoculating against the otherwise inevitable knee-jerk defensive response which prevented anyone from hearing his claim of inescapable responsibility. Before arriving at this statement, I imagine he experienced the dishearteningly repetitive conversation that would otherwise unfailingly ensue:

"All are responsible."
"Well I'm not guilty."
"I'm talking about responsibility, not …"
"You can't blame me!"
"Blame isn't the issue here, we're …"
"You're just as guilty as I am!"
"But the point was …"
"Al Gore is just as guilty as I am!"

This seems to be the depressingly predictable result of any invitation to, argument for or assertion of collective responsibility. "Responsibility" is heard as or translated into "guilt" and thus produces an instinctive, angry rejection of blame that, in turn, becomes an instinctive, angry embrace of irresponsibility.

Heschel sought to fend off that instinctive response: "Few are guilty — although I'm sure, my good friend, that category does not include you — all are responsible."

This cautious approach, this defending against defensiveness, may be necessary for anyone addressing a human audience who wants that audience to be able to hear — let alone accept — any consideration of collective responsibility.

Making such an explicit, preemptive distinction between guilt and responsibility may be necessary in part due to an ambiguity of language. The question "Who is responsible?" can mean many things, among them, "Who is to blame?" Talk of responsibility is thus frustratingly likely to prompt the denial of blame which, in turn, becomes a denial of responsibility which, further, becomes itself a kind of blameworthy irresponsibility.

And that, sadly, is where we seem to be in the matter of America's inadequate response to the crisis of climate change.

It might be helpful to look at this through the lens of a textbook example from Ethics 101: The Drowning Stranger.

"A man is drowning near the end of the dock," the professor says. "What is your responsibility?"

"I didn't push him in!" the student says, with abrupt, vehement anger.

From the professor's perspective, this anger is strangely out of place, but for the student it seems justified. The student, instinctively, heard the question of responsibility as an accusation of blame. And, for what it's worth, the student's statement is correct. He didn't push the hypothetical stranger off of the hypothetical dock.

The problem, of course, is that the student's response — standing by as the stranger drowns while adamantly insisting on his blamelessness — is itself so irresponsible as to incur the very guilt the student set out to deny. Very well, he didn't push the man in, but he did just stand there and watch the man drown without lifting a finger to save him.

First let's get the poor hypothetical stranger out of the water and then we can deal with the question of who was to blame for causing his predicament.

Strangely, it seems easiest to get us humans to respond — to take responsibility — when the matter at hand is unambiguously no fault of our own. Remove any potential hint of culpability and we're more likely to agree to act. Frame the text-book hypothetical in such a way that it is clear no one is accusing us of having caused the drowning stranger's predicament and we will eagerly reach, throw, row and go until he is safely back on dry land.

This is strange because the logic of justice would seem to work the other way around. A person partially to blame for the drowning stranger's predicament would seem to have a greater obligation to assist him than would a person wholly uninvolved in his plight. And a person directly to blame for his situation would seem to have an even greater obligation.

Yet we seem to have an instinctual defensiveness that shouts down the logic of justice. It's like a kind of moral fight-or-flight instinct that kicks in whenever we feel cornered into accepting some measure of blame. "The woman you put here with me — she gave me the fruit …"

I'm not trying here to explain or criticize this instinct. Nor am I trying to defend it. I only mean to point out that this is something we humans do. And I think this very human response accounts for much of the confounding climate change denialism that we keep seeing in public opinion polls of average Americans.

(I don't mean to discount the effect of an extremely well-funded disinformation campaign or the collective effect of the army of liars-for-hire serving as its footsoldiers. Nor would I rule out the impact of knee-jerk, whatever-Obama-says-I-believe-the-opposite partisan insanity. But I think what I'm discussing here also contributes to the level of denialism.)

The prospect of catastrophic climate change triggers this defensive denial-of-blame instinct because it raises the possibility of Very, Very Bad results arising without Very, Very Bad intent.

Global warming, after all, was an accident. We humans did not set about at the start of the Industrial Revolution with a master plan of filling the atmosphere with heat-trapping greenhouse gases for the purpose of trapping heat and thereby changing the climate. This isn't something we meant to do.

Bill McKibben does a good job of discussing this in his book The Comforting Whirlwind:

Carbon dioxide is not so dangerous to any of us as individuals — it is not like carbon monoxide … which kills you if you inhale too much. Carbon dioxide does nothing like that — the level of CO2 in any room is much higher than it will ever get outdoors, and it's not affecting any of us. In fact, for a very long time scientists described an engine as "clean" if it burned coal or gas or oil and produced only CO2 and water vapor. There is only one hitch in this happy story. Carbon dioxide … is capable of trapping heat in the atmosphere that would otherwise radiate back into space.

Scientists have known this for a long time … But no one paid much attention — most scientists, being human, assumed that the earth would take care of the extra gas we were creating with all our factories and automobiles. To be specific, they assumed that the oceans could soak up all our excess carbon dioxide. Then, in the late 1950s, a pair of California scientists performed a few simple experiments and showed that this was not in fact the case …

This kind of accidentally disastrous consequences arising from well-int
entioned actions is particularly confusing for the many Amer
icans, including most evangelical Christians, who have a primarily visceral sense of morality, where what matters is what's "in your heart." Good-hearted decisions to do what you think is best for your family — a nice suburban home, cars chosen for their tank-like safety, etc. — can't conceivably, from this perspective, produce anything but good results. The absence of deliberate malice constitutes innocence.

And that innocence will angrily assert itself against any suggestion of blame — or any suggestion of responsibility that sounds like it might be somehow connected to blame.

This question of blame and innocence seems to be central to much of the denialism and the vehemently irresponsible lack of a response to climate change. The more overwhelming the evidence becomes that climate change is, undeniably, happening, the louder they protest that nothing can or should be done because climate change isn't "man-made." After years of denying that there even was a drowning stranger in the water, they've fallen back to the student's defensive claim of "I didn't push him in!"

Whether or not they actually manage to believe this claim of blamelessness, what they're really asserting here is that their intent is blameless: "I didn't push him in on purpose!"

Somehow — and I don't know how to do this, exactly, particularly given the urgency of the situation — somehow we've got to convince them that we're not accusing them of doing anything "on purpose." To get beyond their angry, defensive instinct we've got to separate the matter of guilt from the matter of responsibility. This is difficult because, when it comes to climate change, we can't say what Heschel said. When it comes to climate change, all are guilty and all are responsible.

(One hint that the denialists themselves know that: Their Al Gore jokes. They're so nastily gleeful every time the man gets in a car or on a plane that they can't help themselves from smirking about it, even though this undermines their claim of innocence: "I didn't push him, but Al Gore pushed him too!")

But what matters isn't that we get everyone, or anyone, to accept guilt. What matters is getting everyone to accept responsibility.

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Pius Thicknesse

    I think “Save the Planet” would go over better if it was “Save the Planet so Humanity can keep Living”.
    The problem is that it can seem inherently selfish and some on the Left have a hard time recognizing that all humans can be a little selfish, though the circumstances of when that occurs can vary.

  • Raka

    Randy Owens: No, because most of the carbon in the corn or whatever biomass is used came out of the atmosphere that season.
    True, but it’s worth pointing out that we have to take into consideration the (usually fossil-based) carbon used to plant, fertilize, harvest, transport, and process the biomass. In the case of corn-sugar ethanol (a boondoggle from day 1), this nets us a painful negative. Cellulosic ethanol is more promising, though it has a lot of room for improvement.
    A second consideration is conversion of C02 into chemicals that have a greater greenhouse effect per unit of carbon, which is why methane-producing livestock are a concern. This is all tangential to Randy’s comment, but worth keeping in mind.

  • kcs_hiker

    @Izzy: concerning asking for help from the government (or even from your family for that matter)
    one problem that I’ve noticed is that 1 out of every 100 or 1000 or maybe even 50 people who ask for or receive help ARE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE SYSTEM! And that of course, translates into “We shouldn’t help anyone because they are all just TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE SYSTEM!”
    and there is a bit of merit to the argument… it’s why we don’t feed the bears at Yellowstone and don’t give our dogs pizza crusts (well maybe not so much with dogs since they don’t really have to work for food in any case… unless they are wild dogs of course.. bu you probably wouldn’t give wild dogs pizza crust…)
    anyway I think teabaggers are stupid
    but I don’t disagree with some of their premises

  • KellyK

    Or we all go out to dinner in posh restaurants and discuss our favorite methods of torture. (That was this weekend. Our poor server walked up just as my son was earnestly querying, “Well, I see why you’d cut off his eyelids before you staked him to the anthill, but would you poor the honey on his crotch or down his throat?” She sort of clutched the menus to her chest and murmured “I’ll come back, shall I?”)

    hapax, you’re awesome. I want to eat dinner with your family. (And I don’t see why you couldn’t put the honey down his throat *and* on his crotch.)

  • Tonio

    but I don’t disagree with some of their premises
    It’s very easy to call the premises into question, when racial caricatures are common at teabagger events and Tancredo endorses literacy tests for voting. And whatever your own intention, it’s irresponsible to compare giving public assistance to humans with feeding wild animals.

  • Ryan

    There’s that word again! “Responsible”! This time with an “ir” in front!

  • kcs_hiker

    @Tonio; yes well I don’t agree with the racial caricatures, lying and distortions. One would have hoped that you would have gleaned that from my tone. On the other hand, humans ARE animals, and similarly prone to laziness and taking a free handout when its offered to the point of dependancy, and I don’t see anything irresponsible about saying so.

  • Bugmaster

    In the case of corn-sugar ethanol (a boondoggle from day 1)

    Why do you say that ?

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    similarly prone to laziness and taking a free handout when its offered to the point of dependancy

    No. Some people are prone to laziness. Not all.
    That is the main philosophical objection to the teabaggers and the other authoritarians and the absolutists. They have an extremely negative view of all of humanity, treating people as if they will always do the wrong thing unless prevented from doing so. They don’t recognize that humans have the capacity for both responsibility and irresponsibility.

  • Anton Mates

    On the other hand, humans ARE animals, and similarly prone to laziness and taking a free handout when its offered to the point of dependancy, and I don’t see anything irresponsible about saying so.

    By and large, we’re not so much concerned about Yellowstone bears getting lazy, as about them getting into confrontations with humans where either bear or human ends up dead. I’m not really seeing the similarity with poor people; when you put someone on welfare, he doesn’t usually graduate to mauling a rich dude while trying to get at those succulent credit cards.

  • hapax

    I’m not really seeing the similarity with poor people; when you put someone on welfare, he doesn’t usually graduate to mauling a rich dude while trying to get at those succulent credit cards.
    Hmm. Can’t say the same about those pseudo-Persons known as “corporations.”
    “BlueCross is more greedy than your average bear
    BlueCross is always looking for a bigger share
    They’re maximizing profits and decreasing care
    …”

  • Ryan

    Are some people prone to laziness all of the time, or are all people prone to laziness some of the time?

  • kcs_hiker

    @Tonio; yes of course. My original post said something like 1 out 100 or 50 or whatever. That definitely translates into some; one might even say a minority.
    @anton mates; the confrontation occurs when the bears, who now feel entitled to the free handout, become aggressive when it’s withheld. If you cannot see the parallel…
    @ryan: I think both.

  • Pius Thicknesse

    @anton mates; the confrontation occurs when the bears, who now feel entitled to the free handout, become aggressive when it’s withheld. If you cannot see the parallel…

    I don’t know if you realize you’re being quite offensive: acting as though some human beings can’t possibly reason at all and are just like violent animals. This has racist overtones particularly in the United States rather than in Canada or Europe. (and if you’ve never had someone on the Internet deride black people as “porch monkeys”, you’ve been REALLY sheltered)
    Some humans may get “aggressive” when not getting handouts, but you’ll notice that unlike aggressive animals, we don’t shoot them.
    Although I’ve got to say locking people up just for being homeless isn’t much of a better solution. It’s a general rule of thumb that a good chunk of homeless people are there becuae they can’t/won’t go into proper facilities for their mental care.
    Last I looked I haven’t heard of wild bears necessarily being homeless, so your comparison starts to lose validity the more you go beyond the superficial parallels.
    A word on OMG ABUSING THE SYSTEM generally.
    This is why any sensible welfare state implements rules about who can collect certain benefits, or sets up a system to verify identity before issuing benefits. It’s not an insurmountable problem and the fraud rate is usually less than three percent as judging from studies of social assistance caseloads in Canada and the US.
    Also, contrary to the stereotype of the black welfare queen it’s sometimes poorer white families that can really game the system.
    Anecdata:
    I knew a guy whose cousins, uncle and aunt lived near the boundary line for the next state over and apparently through some creative fudging they were able to collect welfare across state lines.

  • kcs_hiker

    @ pius; last I checked humans ARE animals, and are quite often violent. What’s the problem with saying so? Or are you suggesting that all of our wars and atrocities and murders are committed by reasoning people?
    Why the accusations of racism? I’ve never mentioned race at all. It seems to me that I’m not the one wanting to equate animals and animal like behavior with blacks.
    That there are people “gaming the system”, be they white, black, or brown, merely proves my original point.

  • Anton Mates

    @anton mates; the confrontation occurs when the bears, who now feel entitled to the free handout, become aggressive when it’s withheld. If you cannot see the parallel…

    Er, bears aren’t motivated by feelings of “entitlement.” Bears are motivated by noticing that a lot of tasty food can be found where those weird little bipedal monkeys hang out, especially if you tear open those movable metal boxes they like to sit inside. And that those weird little monkeys might be tasty food themselves, and even if they’re not, sometimes they’re just annoying and get in your personal space and need to be smacked to death. Bears don’t care whether you’re giving them what they deserve, because they don’t have a concept of “deserve” with respect to humans. We aren’t fellow citizens who can have a social relationship with them (and for that matter, neither are most other bears); we’re just animals to be exploited or avoided as convenient.
    Really, bears and poor people, not all that similar psychologically.

  • Tonio

    Why the accusations of racism? I’ve never mentioned race at all.

    From my reading, no one is accusing you of racism. Instead, you’re being accused of using an argument that originated long ago with racism and attempting to apply it generically. It’s the equivalent of someone who opposes big federal government taking about the concept of “state’s rights” without knowing that the concept was invented to justify slavery and segregation.

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    Tonio: No. Some people are prone to laziness. Not all
    And, really, if I ran a business I would not want any person who was extremely lazy towards the job they are supposed to do working for me. Forcing lazy people into work by threatening them with starvation is a scam looking for a mark.
    kcs_hiker: If you cannot see the parallel…
    I see it, and to me it looks completely cross-wise, or whatever the opposite of parallel is. To start with, few humans are 400 lbs of teeth and claws with no full awareness that they are *not* kings of all they survey. Second, even if humans went out to raid dumpsters because they are too lazy to kill small (or medium-sized) animals, it would be more a problem of hygiene than of civil unrest. And while humans and bears would agree that being hungry is an unpleasant state of being, humans are not too enthusiastic about shitting in the woods and wintering in a cave, and in general habe better motivation to get along well with others of their kind than bears have.

  • ako

    I want to see Stephen Colbert make kcs_hiker’s argument. I think he could do a good job with “If you give poor people money, they’ll start acting like angry bears!”

  • Ryan

    Or is it a mark looking for a scam?

  • kcs_hiker

    oh brother
    so the argument is whether or not bears living in Yellowstone are a good analogy to people on welfare? Lots of angst over that.
    Never mind then, I’ll gladly give up the analogy. Nevertheless, some people (actually many people), when given free handouts, are prone to becoming dependant upon those handouts. Am I arguing that because of that, we should stop free handouts altogether? No.
    But swiftly shifting the argument to accuse me of racism or poor analogism or whatever, doesn’t change the facts. It only gives your (and my) political opponents more ammunition.

  • Pius Thicknesse

    Your analogy wasn’t the best precisely because black people have been compared to animals before, and not in a neutral way. (Yes, I know we humans are just another species of animal on Earth. That’s not a normative statement. What is, is when subgroups of humans are compared unflatteringly to certain animal species whose existence carries unfortunate connotations.)
    There are also things wrong with alleging that “many” people become dependent on handouts. I’ve lost track of how many times this gets trotted out to prove that welfare is bad, and equally how many times it’s proven that the average turnover period is less than two years for something like 90+% of recipients.
    In short the stereotype of OMG GENERATIONS OF FAMILIES ALL ABUSING WELFARE has almost zero validity and is just a cheap shot at people that have used welfare for what it was meant: as a hand up from their current situation.
    If you’re still having trouble maybe you should read inge’s excellent post on how bears likely think of humans. The stimulus and response may look superficially similar but I assure you the thought processes involved are very different.

  • Anton Mates

    Never mind then, I’ll gladly give up the analogy. Nevertheless, some people (actually many people), when given free handouts, are prone to becoming dependant upon those handouts.

    OK. How many people, and how do you know?
    Furthermore, an implication of your analogy was the idea that welfare dependency is very dangerous–it leads to really bad things happening, like people getting savaged by entitlement-crazed bears and wild dogs. Are you giving up that bit, or is there an aspect of welfare dependency which is comparably calamitous? Because I don’t actually care that much whether 1 in 50 (or whatever) welfare recipients are Taking Advantage of the System; that hurts me a lot less than the system-gaming pulled off by, say, Halliburton and Archer Daniels Midland.
    By the way, my mom was on welfare for a couple of years after she had me. Then she went back to school, didn’t need it anymore, and she’s been a successful nurse and hospital administrator for about two decades now. Tragically, she was startled last year by a group of hikers who approached from downwind, and the resulting bloodbath left Fish & Wildlife with no option other than putting her down.

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    ksc_hiker: You made the claim that people behaved like wild animals and claimed that the parallels were obvious. So you want to withdraw the claim, or only the specific analogy?
    Pius: In short the stereotype of OMG GENERATIONS OF FAMILIES ALL ABUSING WELFARE
    It true, it means that generations are living in hopeless poverty with no access to education, job opportunities, or mainstream culture including democratic participation. And the best solution the detractors of welfare can come up with is to have them do so in the gutter and eating from dumpsters instead of out-of-sight-out-of-mind. One might think they wanted to immanentize the world revolution.
    Also, I think Anton has the honor of having written the definite piece on human-bear relations.

  • Caravelle

    Anton Mates :

    @anton mates; the confrontation occurs when the bears, who now feel entitled to the free handout, become aggressive when it’s withheld. If you cannot see the parallel…
    Er, bears aren’t motivated by feelings of “entitlement.”

    Aside from that, is that poster actually alleging that poor people are more likely to rob you if they’re on welfare ?
    Maybe he should spend some time in Brazil or Somalia. See how nice and inoffensive the “bears” who haven’t been “habituated” to “handouts” are. (not claiming that poor Brazilians and Somalians are muggers. I’ve just heard of both of those countries that being poor sucks more there than it does in the US, and I’ve also heard of stuff like a high rate of kidnappings in one and piracy in the other. The latter sounds like an understandable response to the former so I’m imagining some level of cause and effect there)

  • http://funwithrage.livejournal.com Izzy

    Whoa, thread necromancy. Taking this moment to say thanks to Pius and Nicole, run away from BatBugmaster. Though even Batman had a couple “dude, you cannot do this alone” moments. (Alfred? Rocks. Especially New Series Alfred.)
    Also, what Anton and everyone else said. Do I care if one in fifty people abuses this particular system? Fuck no. Both because of what Anton said re: companies and because…all of us game our own systems a little bit. Find me someone who’s never used the office computer to play Solitaire, who’s never held onto an old ID to extend their student discount just a little bit longer, who’s never conveniently had stomach cramps before phys ed, and I’ll find you a person who’s both rare and extremely boring. (Like the drippy missionary cousin in Jane Eyre, who is even less interesting in the movie because time with him is time that doesn’t feature Extremely Hot If WAY Emo Dalton!Rochester.) Within a certain margin, systems are made to be gamed, and most people will stay within that margin.
    You put in some precautions to keep people from breaking the bank, sure–as Pius says–but welfare, by and large, is a safety net rather than a way of providing luxuries. It’s not so pleasant that most people would rather be on it than employed. And I’d far rather make sure that the majority of people can live in reasonable comfort while they get back on their feet than worry about a small minority staying on it. If I’m going to be completely inhumane and bitchy about it, welfare probably costs less and is less trouble than jail.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    Like the drippy missionary cousin in Jane Eyre
    In defence of Charlotte Bronte, to wander off topic, I wouldn’t describe him as ‘drippy’. He’s more presented as a basically bad man who’s only saved by the fact that he directs his merciless will towards serving God rather than anything more earthly. Anybody whose proposal to a heroine basically summarises as, ‘So, I don’t love you and I know you don’t love me, but you’d make a very useful missionary assistant, it would look bad if you weren’t married to me, and I think it would be good for you to sacrifice your life – yes, I know it would be your life because you wouldn’t live long in a hot climate, but dying for God’s will is a good thing – to my unbending view of God,’ who knows perfectly well that this is what he’s saying and doesn’t even feel embarrassed about it, is a lot of things … but I don’t think drippy is one of them.
    And on-topic, I agree with those who say I’d rather have a minority of people on welfare they didn’t need than lots of people needing welfare and starving to death. And yes, I actually do know habitually dependent on welfare. He’s a nice guy, but he’s deskilled and a lifetime of poverty and not much to do has left him pretty bad at managing a job environment – to the point where I think putting him on welfare rather than responsible for something he could mess up might be the more responsible thing to do. He’d probably be better off if he’d spent his life working more than odd jobs here and there, but I still think benefits are more humane than nothing at all.
    (And the reason I know him is that he’s been in the habit of doing odd jobs for my family when he’s been strapped. Sometimes they’ve bailed him out, including paying a pretty large amount of back rent once when it was that or let him and his whole family be evicted, which would mean him on the streets and his children probably taken into care. That’s a conservative reason for welfare: someone who has a choice between homelessness and appealing to people who have money is going to start appealing to friends and family, who may not be thrilled. If it’s starve or beg, people beg, and welfare at least spreads the load.)

  • http://funwithrage.livejournal.com Izzy

    Kit: Ahh, that’s…both more interesting and more disturbing. I admit that I tend to skim that part of the book: I *get* why Jane acts as she does post-Dramatic-Revelation, and by the morality of Bronte’s time it’s the right thing to do, but man can I not empathize. (Dude’s wife is non compos and not likely to be getting better anytime soon, he’s willing to make sure you’re taken care of if anything happens. Go to Spain and live in hot hot sin already!) And the whole St. John/Jane/Neighbor Girl Whatsherface thing drags a fair bit. So I think I probably did miss a lot of stuff in that part.
    And yeah. Especially when the requisite skills for jobs change pretty damn fast around here: someone who held down a perfectly good factory/programming/customer service job twenty or thirty years ago may not have the skills to do so now. Yeah, you can learn new skills, but that gets harder as you get older, plus it generally takes money and it always takes time, which, if you’ve got kids to support…not so much.
    That’s a conservative reason for welfare: someone who has a choice between homelessness and appealing to people who have money is going to start appealing to friends and family, who may not be thrilled. If it’s starve or beg, people beg, and welfare at least spreads the load.
    Plus, as I’ve mentioned, asking friends for money can really fuck up your relationship even when they’re fine with giving it to you*, and we shouldn’t be penalizing people for not making friends easily. Impersonal government agencies are a far better and less awkward means of support, I think.
    *Immediate family is a little less risky–depending on their situation and yours–but even there, a bit awkward for many of us even when we do get along and it’s not a hardship for them.

  • http://mikailborg.livejournal.com MikhailBorg

    Back in ’89, I tried to emulate Buckaroo Banzai without the benefit of an Overthruster. Had a tire fail on the Interstate and hit a mountain at 75, pushing my left femur back through my pelvis. After reconstructive surgery failed, I had to go back for my version 0.6 Borg implants.
    Long story short, I was on welfare for about two years before I was again capable of doing the sort of work at which I could make a living wage. Through the magic of taxation, I’ve since returned every cent and more the government’s ever spent on me. I think the welfare system worked exactly as it was meant to: giving me a safety net so I could once again become a contributing member of society.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    but man can I not empathize
    You might make a case that what she’s doing is partly a nod to contemporary morality, but also an assertion of self: she’s not going to let her feelings for a man lead her to putting herself in a position where she’s absolutely at his mercy (which as a penniless mistress, she would be), or abandon the values taught her by the few people who have loved her. Rochester has a tendency to try to turn her into a little doll anyway, which she relentlessly resists, and expecting her to set aside the whole of society just to be with him could be read as an extension of that. One of Jane’s impressive qualities is a refusal to be beholden to anyone, because she knows where dependency leads, and refusing to change that principle even because she’s in love is pretty impressive.

    Had a tire fail on the Interstate and hit a mountain at 75, pushing my left femur back through my pelvis.
    Owie. Hope you’re fully recovered now.

  • Tonio

    And the best solution the detractors of welfare can come up with is to have them do so in the gutter and eating from dumpsters instead of out-of-sight-out-of-mind.

    From my experience with them, they don’t seem to want a solution. They simply resent, as they spin the situation, paying taxes so people can sit on their asses sucking at the public teat. The fostering-dependency argument sounds like a rationalization or articulation of the Just World Fallacy.

  • http://mikailborg.livejournal.com MikhailBorg

    Owie. Hope you’re fully recovered now.
    Much appreciated! Thanks to modern medicine, titanium, and nylon, you’d never know I was in a car accident. Though, I still limp a bit when I’m really tired, and the ten-inch scar on my Left Behind is a conversation starter in the rare situations it’s visible.
    However, as of this year I’ve had about enough of surgeons removing my body parts before I’m done with them. I honestly just changed my mind on being an organ donor after death*; it squicked me before, but at this point, why not continue the trend?
    *Still not especially interested in becoming an organ donor before death.

  • Lori

    You put in some precautions to keep people from breaking the bank, sure–as Pius says–but welfare, by and large, is a safety net rather than a way of providing luxuries. It’s not so pleasant that most people would rather be on it than employed. And I’d far rather make sure that the majority of people can live in reasonable comfort while they get back on their feet than worry about a small minority staying on it. If I’m going to be completely inhumane and bitchy about it, welfare probably costs less and is less trouble than jail.

    OMG this. I can not figure out, barring a sort of pure meanness of spirit, where people get the idea that there are vast numbers of people happily living off the dole. Some people seriously need to get out of their nice cozy little enclaves and really look around at the world. Welfare sucks and very few people enjoy being on it. What has happened to some welfare recipients is that their spirits have been broken and they’ve accepted that they’re never going to be able to have the life they wanted for themselves or their children. And yes, that hopelessness can be communicated from one generation to the next, but it’s not the result of some horrid moral failing.
    Long term dependency on assistance is as or more often the result of too little aid as too much. Assistance is frequently just enough to scrap by, but not enough to allow a person to get a little ahead so they can make changes in their life. That means that recipients end up they’re trapped. Taking away that the aid they get and turning them out into the street to eat garbage is not the solution to that. And I second the people who said that even if all that were untrue I would rather pay for some “undeserving poor” to live off public money than to for us to turn our back on the people who need help.
    The other thing that works my last good nerve about the whole welfare debate is that there would be fewer poor people if we didn’t have the Right Wing insisting on running our economy by the rules of the most brutal, winner-take-all version of capitalism. You don’t want to pay for welfare? Fine. Then make it easier for more people to have the dignity of being able to support themselves. Stop cutting funds for education, stop demonizing unions and shipping jobs to low wage countries, stop supporting the mess we laughably refer to as a health care system that forces people to chose between having medical care and buying food and keeping the damn heat on in the winter. Stop allowing Walmart to drive down wages and then run those annoying commercials where they basically claim they’re doing everyone some great favor by providing products for the poor that are created by those low wages, all while keeping generations of the Walton family on top of the Forbes list. Just generally stop fucking over everyone who didn’t have the good fortune to be born in clover. Do all that and if we still have a big problem with folks on welfare I’ll be happy to listen to concerns about it. In the mean time there are a bunch of folks who need to drop it.
    If there is anything remotely positive that can come out of this recession I hope it involves some people having their eyes opened about what it really means to depend on welfare. The news is full of stories about the “new poor”. People who have been comfortable all their lives who are now royally screwed because their are no jobs and who are having to apply for benefits for the first time. I don’t wish that on anyone and I’m very aware of the fact that if I didn’t have good friends and a loving family I’d be one of those people. I do hope that it snaps some people out of their smug though.

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    Kit: That’s a conservative reason for welfare: someone who has a choice between homelessness and appealing to people who have money is going to start appealing to friends and family, who may not be thrilled.
    There’s another point here this has been discussed on this blog alreay IIRC: That poverty becomes cemented by the fact that everyone starting to get slightly ahead and is not willing to be a complete bastard about it will always fall back because there’s friends and family to care for.

  • Tonio

    I can not figure out, barring a sort of pure meanness of spirit, where people get the idea that there are vast numbers of people happily living off the dole.

    The myth about the supposed laziness of non-whites was around long before the modern concept of public assistance. And from my reading, the social activists who campaigned for public assistance programs were also the ones campaigning for civil rights, for the most part. My theory is that race-baiting politicians saw an opportunity to spin these, and the idea grew into a cultural meme. I’ve encountered self-identified conservatives who insist that Democrats use welfare to buy the votes of non-Americans, and who claim that illegal immigrants come here just so they can go on the dole.

  • Tonio

    While I’m thinking of this, has anyone caught references to Lindsey Vonn being “all-American”? I hear that phrase and I think of the pandering involved in pairing Charles Van Doren against Herb Stempel.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    The myth about the supposed laziness of non-whites was around long before the modern concept of public assistance. And from my reading, the social activists who campaigned for public assistance programs were also the ones campaigning for civil rights, for the most part. My theory is that race-baiting politicians saw an opportunity to spin these, and the idea grew into a cultural meme. I’ve encountered self-identified conservatives who insist that Democrats use welfare to buy the votes of non-Americans, and who claim that illegal immigrants come here just so they can go on the dole.
    Posted by: Tonio
    ———————
    Actually, that cultural meme predates the Civil War. Seems that the slaves were lazy and wouldn’t work unless forced. Slaveowners couldn’t understand why a slave wouldn’t want to work, and so assumed that they were lazy. Given that slaves would destroy tools if not watched led to the meme that slaves were destructive.
    No, it couldn’t be that the slaves were not working and destroying tools as a way of sabotaging thier masters in revolt, after all the slaves were happy, right?

  • Pius Thicknesse

    I actually remember some Republican asshat on CPAC in the House (or was it the Senate?) ranting on at some Democrat for “voting for welfare so you can keep getting re-elected and re-elected!”
    Classy move there, buddy. Not.

  • Tonio

    Actually, that cultural meme predates the Civil War.

    You’re right about the laziness aspect of the myth. I was describing a likely route that it took to becoming a meme about public assistance.

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    Tonio: This meme is not limited to the US and works just as well in ethnically homogenous places. Though it becomes probably more “fun” when you have Irish, Welsh, Polish, Italian, Turkish,… working class people who happen to be on the dole now and then.

  • Anton Mates

    Lori,

    If there is anything remotely positive that can come out of this recession I hope it involves some people having their eyes opened about what it really means to depend on welfare. The news is full of stories about the “new poor”. People who have been comfortable all their lives who are now royally screwed because their are no jobs and who are having to apply for benefits for the first time. I don’t wish that on anyone and I’m very aware of the fact that if I didn’t have good friends and a loving family I’d be one of those people. I do hope that it snaps some people out of their smug though.

    Sadly, it seems to have the opposite effect a lot of the time. The people who don’t end up on welfare in this climate end up significantly angrier at the poor than they would be if the economy was doing well. And I suspect that even a lot of new welfare recipients are convinced that all those other bastards aren’t nearly as deserving as they are, rather like the pro-life women who end up having the abortion they really need but still condemn all the other women for being lazy sluts.
    Hard times make most people nastier, I fear.
    Tonio,

    The fostering-dependency argument sounds like a rationalization or articulation of the Just World Fallacy.

    Which is particularly strange, since most of those people are nominally Christian and claim to follow the NT. Jesus said a lot of things I find confusing, inconsistent or ambiguous, but he was awfully clear on the material wealth bit. How do you get from that to “My dollar bills are my God-given reward for hard work, so screw rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, no lazy poor person’s getting my wealth?”

  • Pius Thicknesse

    I think the irony here is that the permeation of the Western world with a strain of neoconservative ideology and the consequent economic insecurity, instead of fostering (as the neocons and their hangers-on would claim) a new era of voluntary charity from all the new rich people that got made, just created a cultural environment that validates behaving like a nasty jerk who yells I ME MY MINE all the time.
    One thing the indomitable Rack Jite once pointed out is that in his experience on this Earth most conservatives he dealt with seem to be unable to refer to anything except from a selfish point of view and the most common refrain was “*I* (this)”, “*MY* (that)” and so on. Along with this came an obvious inability to put themselves in anyone else’s shoes, and if asked to try, they would say, “I am not (group)! And if I was I would pull myself up yadda yadda yadda.”
    In short they’re completely clueless as to the nature of social barriers to individual progress and have no idea why a functioning society needs a stable, non-corrupt government that is run by people who know what they’re doing.