Smart people saying smart things

Gershom Gorenberg: “Republicans and the ‘Quality of Sodom'”

A couple of strangers show up in town. In the previous chapter they had arrived at the tent of Abraham, who hurried to put out the best meal he could provide. His wealth, he understood, was merely a trusteeship, something he’d been granted in order to share. In Sodom, the mob comes to get the strangers and the bleeding-heart liberal who tried to put a roof over their head. The threatened gang-rape is the means of aggression, not the point of it. Sodom is the original ungodly city, whose customs are the opposite of the justice that Abraham will teach his descendants.

Lest you think that Sodom was only stingy with outsiders, an ancient rabbinic tradition (preserved in Breshit Rabba) explains why the divine inquiry commission was sent to investigate the city in the first place: Sodom had a law against giving to the poor. This is meant as hyperbole; the point is that “what’s mine is mine” was public policy in Sodom.

Sodom, in short, was a polis run by the philosophy of Ayn Rand, where redistribution of wealth was regarded as immoral, where government had the responsibility to protect private property but not to insure the well-being of the people. Upstanding Sodomites would not have accepted a decision by the city elders requiring them to put coins in the kitty to pay healers who might treat people besides themselves. They would have argued that “I’m responsible for myself and I’m not responsible for other people… I should get the fruits of my labor and I shouldn’t have to divvy it up with other people.” The city elders would not have asked people to pay for more teachers to educate other people’s children, and certainly not to pay for food for those who couldn’t afford it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but in Sodom there would have been no problem passing the Ryan budget plan.

Jarvis DeBerry: “Photo of boy in public housing with an iPad prompts debate over what the poor should have”

I imagine that at some point or another all of us who aren’t poor have decided which items poor folks, especially those on government assistance, should be allowed to have. And which items they should be denied. Fancy rims have been known to set me off. Maybe for you it’s gold teeth, Air Jordans, the latest mobile phone. City Councilwoman Stacy Head used her taxpayer-funded phone to send an outraged email when she saw a woman using food stamps to buy Rice Krispies treats. What right do the poor have to sweetness?

I could try to defend myself and say that I think it’s ridiculous for anybody in any income bracket to buy rims, but that’s rather beside the point. I’m not my best self when I’m sitting in judgment and managing other people’s money, and I doubt you’re at your best when you do.

The idea that most people in public housing are living the lush life has persisted for at least as long as presidential candidate Ronald Reagan started using the offensive “welfare queen.” But you ought to take a walk through the Iberville if you think its residents are living like royalty. Walk through and see if you’d exchange their thrones for yours.

The sight of a kid in public housing with an iPad doesn’t offend me. Actually it gives me hope. So many poor people have no access to the digital world. They fall behind in school because of it. They miss the opportunity to apply for certain jobs. Yes an iPad is an expensive gadget, but we can’t deny its usefulness. As computers go, an iPad comes cheaper than most laptops and desktops.

It might help to think of poor people as being as fully human as everybody else and as no more or less flawed.

Melissa @ Permission to Live: “Why I used to be afraid of Universal Health Care”

I was afraid of Universal Health Care, because I knew nothing else but what I had been told by religious propaganda and conservative think tanks.  They repeatedly spread the idea that Universal Health Care took away all choice. I was told that people were assigned doctors, and were not free to choose a different doctor. I was told that older people were denied health care and left to die because they were not a priority to the national interest. I was also told that abortion was pushed heavily on any woman who had an unwanted pregnancy or women who were pregnant with a child with disabilities. I was told that people with disabilities would be eliminated by government encouraged abortions or possibly even killed at birth (they wouldn’t want those people on the federal dole since they would “waste money” and “drain the system.”) Universal Health Care was often tied in my mind to places like China with their one child policy, places where the choice to have a large family would not be tolerated.

When I moved to Canada at the age of 23, and was forced to experience Universal Health Care and found that it was actually a good thing for pretty much every person I came in contact with, I began to question what else I had been told could be misinformation. Even the very conservative people I came in contact with in Canada were happy with their Universal Health Care. In Canada large secluded religious sects had all their health care needs met by the government and had no problem with that. ***The stuff I had been fed was purely propaganda.*** There was no cap on how many children you could have, no older people left to die, no forced abortions or elimination of special needs people. Even when Canadians complained about wait times and talked of maybe running to the states to get a service faster, after finding out that it would cost them tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket, most chose to wait instead. … The system wasn’t perfect, but it was a decided improvement on what I had observed and experienced in the USA.

"Ah, I found the three-tiered Political Alignment chart.https://upload.wikimedia.or..."

If it’s good enough for Andre ..."
"I really enjoy the flavor of a well-seared steak, and I can't stand the texture ..."

‘That’s why we are here’
"Ah, the moment when you finally realize that you fucked a manatee."

‘That’s why we are here’

Standing by

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • AnonymousSam

    And/or the ability to throw the tenant out by force, because once you’re homeless, you can have a pretty damned hard time putting together a lawsuit while simultaneously scrambling for a place to live and hoping that when they threw all your stuff out on the front lawn that no one stole anything. That’s happened to people I know.

  • Rowen

     Yeah, I mean, the landlord can’t just go “YOUR 50CENTS AND THREE DAYS LATE. I’M CHANGING THE LOCKS AND SELLING YOUR STUFF!!”

    But, if you happen to be a minority, or poor, or both, or some other combination, you might not be able to scrap together the funds/place to stay while you deal with that. Though, if he HAS changed the locks immediately after serving you with an eviction notice, I would imagine you could get the police involved and be entitled to damages, but that’s going beyond my area of knowledge.

    The biggest thing I’m getting out of this is that if you’re poor, often times you don’t have access to even the knowledge that would help you out in this situation and are thus left to the wims of the landlord who pretty much expects that you’re not going to be able to do anything EVEN if you know what you can and cannot do. Another reason why cutting funds to education just helps keep those gosh darn poor people in their place. [sarcasm, btw]

  • Isabel C.

    Ha! Thank you! You sound pretty awesome yourself.

    I respect poly*y, and think it’s the only form of committed relationship I could do, but don’t identify myself that way because, to a lot of people, that implies “wants at least one committed relationship,” whereas I am girl!Henry Higgins but with sex.  

    Also, hee! I suspect the answer to 1) would be “moving, forever”. It seems like my fate.

  • AnonymousSam

    Even then, it’s one of those things that you generally wouldn’t expect you’d ever have to deal with, and if it happens suddenly enough, there’s precious little you can do about it while you scramble to figure out what you’re going to do. My SO paid rent every month and was fully up to date, had a brief argument with the landlady, thought nothing of it — until a visit to the family ended on coming home to find the locks changed, belongings on the front lawn, and a note on the door stating that the landlady had invoked her right to throw out tenants for disorderly conduct.

  • Isabel C.

    Ooof, yeah. Good luck with that, and also I hear you re: landlords. What the actual hell?

  • AnonymousSam

    If you find yourself tossed out on your head somewhere in the Pacific NW, depending on how things go here, I may invite you to come help cover rent with like-minded souls and we’ll see where it goes from there.  :p

    ‘Cause speaking of landlords… the only thing keeping us from having a real actual home of our own is money and the lack of adequate amounts of it. The man is very traditional and privacy is somewhat lacking, walls or no walls.

  •  I don’t think anyone here believes poor people are magically immune from sometimes making sub-optimal buying decisions (It would have to be be magical, as I’ve never met anyone of any income level, poor OR rich who didn’t sometimes make sub-optimal buying decisions). What we object to is you declaring yourself the oracle of what constitutes a bad purchasing decision for all poor people.

  • Chunky Style

    When you run out of grocery money before the end of the month, guess what?  At that point it is a real, factual problem and not a matter of opinion, and certainly not an abstract matter of “sub-optimal buying decisions” as you euphemize.

  • Chunky, you have posted a few dozen posts now expressing your frustration that people  with whom you are connected make self-defeating choices regarding food and refuse to take your advice about how to do better.

    People here offer you feedback about how you come across, feedback that if you took seriously rather than arguing with, might just help you to connect better with the people you want to help. But you don’t value that feedback; you think the people who give it to you just don’t get it.

    To someone like me, standing off to the side, the similarity between you and the people in your life making what you consider bad food choices is overwhelming.

    To you? I suspect you’re going to continue munching on your metaphorical candy as you lose more and more standing with people you want to help.

  • AnonymousSam

    When I was poor (not that my financial situation has improved to the point of saying I’m out of the woods, but to a degree, it’s better now) , we called those self-defeating decisions “our sanity fund.” Because sometimes saving $5.99 means being unhappy for the rest of the week, and that’s a much more immediate danger than what’s coming up at the end of the month.

  • banancat

    OK Chunky Style,

    All of those things that you are so horrified at poor people for doing?  I’ve done them.  I’ve thrown away leftovers.  I’ve bought expensive convenience foods many many times.  Sometimes I buy name brand food.  Sometimes I eat lots of candy even though it’s not optimal for my health.  Sometimes I buy the expensive candy because I love it so much.  I even buy lunch from the cafeteria every day even though I know I would be much cheaper to make a sandwich myself.  I could probably save $40 a month if I just started packing lunch.

    So why is ok when I do all of these things but it’s horrifying when poor people do the very same things?  I’m guessing you’ll give me one of two excuses:

    1) I’m not using welfare or food stamps.  Those people are using our taxpayer money so it’s our right and even our duty to judge how they use that money.  It’s not really theirs; it’s ours and we should be offended when they spend it in a way we don’t approve of, right?  Wrong.  We’ve all benefited from taxpayer money.  If you want to judge all people that use “your” money, then you need to be horrified and go on rants about those rich and middle-class making “stupid choices”.  I also don’t believe for a second that you’ve never a sub-optimal purchase.  Since you’ve used my money, I demand that you justify all your choices to me.

    2) You’ll say it’s ok for me to spend sub-optimally because I’m not poor.  What you won’t say out loud is that because I have more money, clearly that is an indication that I am more hard-working and therefore more deserving.  The myth of the meritocracy is alive and well and you surely buy into it even if you won’t admit to it.  But I work less hard than all the poor people I know.  I make good money and it’s largely due to race and class privilege.  I’m white and my parents were middle-class so I got to go to a pretty good public school and then I was able to afford college with the help of my parents.  Because of my good-paying job, I can afford to live with just 1 job and I don’t need to work overtime to make ends meet.  So I work hard at that job, but many poor people work harder.

    There are ways that many poor people can improve their spending, just as their are ways that most other people can improve their spending.  But you know what doesn’t help?  Shaming and finger-pointing.  The only purpose that serves is to let you pretend you’re helping while conveniently doing nothing that requires you to actually help.  I have everything going for me.  I have a decent amount of spare time because I am young, single, childless, and work decent hours with a decent commute by car.  I have the money, education, equipment, and kitchen space to cook and store meals.  I have a car and several grocery stores that are conveniently close and offer both healthy and inexpensive food.  And yet, I still use convenience foods, eat unhealthy foods, and do wasteful things.  So if I, with all my privileges, just don’t feel like  cooking some nights, then what do you expect from the people with far less than me? 

    Perhaps instead of shaming them, you could do something systemic to actually help them.  You could push for better healthcare in this country so people with chronic pain or fatigue conditions could get better treatment and would by physically better-able to cook meals.  You could try to push cities to get better grocery stores that are more convenient.  You could help organize a car system that people can borrow (or even drive those that can’t) so they can get to those groceries stores and haul back food more easily.  You could start a drive to get cooking utensils for people to use.  You could push to make public transit more convenient so some of those people don’t have to transfer several times to get to work, giving them more time in the day.  You could organize community cooking or financial planning classes.  You could push to increase worker’s rights laws so that more people can afford to live from just one job and will have more free time.  I literally thought of all these things off the top of my head.  If you think a little harder you could figure out 100 more things to do actually help poor people make better spending choice.  But instead of actually doing something, you’d rather just scold and shame them.  Go sit on your high horse, but do everyone a favor and do it far away from society because you’re not helping anyone.

  • Dan Audy

    Ok, going to vent here about something that suck about being poor and how being poor ends up costing A LOT OF FUCKING MONEY.

    You make a mistake in your mental tally and end up short in your account.  My wife forgot to ensure that there was $39.60 in the account for an automated payment on the first of August.  Automated payment comes along and attempts that charge which, for no apparent reason, they broke into two separate charges for the components of the charge rather than a single charge.  $16.10 charge is declined, 30 seconds later they attempt to charge $23.50 to an account that just failed to process a smaller fee, 30 seconds later they charge a $25.00 non-payment fee for EACH of the failed transactions to an account that, as we just established, doesn’t have that much money in it .  My bank in turn charges me $42.50 for each of those four non-sufficient funds attempted transactions.  Now I have $50.00 in non-payment fees and $170.00 in NSF charges over a $39.60 expense.  Because I have to come up with an extra $230.00 before next month I don’t know if this debacle is going to repeat itself again because I’m not sure I can squeeze that money out of our budget.

  • Given that much it might almost be worth seeing if you can take the bank to small claims. There has to be some kind of legal precedent in case or statute law prohibiting abusive fee-piling like this.

    I would also stop all auto payments immediately and switch banks. Once everything’s switched tell the original bank to go fuck themselves if they want to waste a lawyer’s time suing you for the $230.

  • Dan Audy

    I’m going to try talking nicely to them about it first and see if they would voluntarily waive those charges or at least reduce it to a single NSF charge rather than 4.  Then I’ll talk to the company that put through the charge and see if they will waive their fees too.  I’m hoping that a bit of human kindness and desire to keep business will motivate them to deal fairly with us.  

    If not then I will switch banks even though they already snatched that money from our (automatically deposited) paycheck.  I’m not willing to voluntarily do business with a company that thinks it is ethical to treat a customer this way even if it won’t save me a penny (or I suppose a nickle now that they phased out the penny).

  • Out of curiosity, which bank?

  • Isabel C.

    Oh my God, that’s evil. I’m sorry.

  • Lori

    I’ve been there, and I feel your pain. It really is evil (and should be illegal) to split a single charge like that. I’d be interested to know if it was the company or the bank that did the split and what their justification is for doing so.

    I hope that you’re able to get the people involved to behave like human beings.

  • Dan Audy

    TD Canada Trust

  • I wish I could say I’m surprised, but sadly, I’m not. The big five (or four, now?) banks have always been rather pilloried for being out of touch with the basic needs of their customers.

  • Random548

    Try and get a kidney, Lung, Heart,or whatever major organ.  You will get the first hand experience with “death panels”

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Wow, it’s amazing how fast this thread turned into More Non-Judgemental Than Thou liberal one-up-person-ship.  :-P

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    And if you’re poor, that means at some point you’re going to get bank-fucked.

    Because having a checking account while poor doesn’t just mean you have to be responsible and good at math — you have to be perfect. Meticulous, flawless record keeping is the difference between surviving and having the bank seize your next paycheck.”

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     The problem is that we’re NOT the banks’ ‘customers’, we’re their RESOURCE.

  • … and resources exist only to be strip-mined and depleted to exhaustion. :

  • Chelle

    Though people in general should budget what they eat if they can’t afford to eat, isn’t the problem. The problem is why they need to budget what they eat to afford to eat. For most poor people, food is the only thing they can afford and that’s extremely sad. It hurts me to think that poor people have to be told to save pennies everyday or be told, thats the reason why your broke, and/or be pushed to being fine with eating less than preferrable. My family and I starved because the pennies we saved wasn’t enough. Let’s not blame the victims.

  • Chelle

    The reason why poor people are poor is because people feel it’s the poor person fault for not budgeting correctly. This might be true for some that didn’t initial grow up poor but hearing comments like poor people arent smart enough and that’s why their hungry 10% of the month is really low. You were truly venting about the wrong people and in an insulting way.

  • Chelle

    Stop blaming the victim! Budgeting is not always the solution especially if you have to budget pennies.. That’s like saying people should eat less to survive another month..