An Earnest Young Man

I met another homeless person the other day in Wal-Mart. Ken's* personal downfall came as a result of drugs and a subsequent prison term. He is now out and clean, but his problem is one faced by many ex-offenders: one look at the fact that he's been to prison, and potential employers run in the opposite direction.

Still, he's trying to stay positive. He seems to have earnestly sworn off drugs, and is trying very hard to put his life back together with the help of his church and many friends. I tried to point him in the direction of programs that would help him find work, even as an ex-offender. One thing I did make sure to point out to him, however: while we were talking, he kept seeing people that he knew. I let him know that that was a sign right there; he's got a built-in network for help and information, he just needed to tap into it. He has a wife and child who are staying with friends; right now, he himself is staying with friends. He's tried the homeless shelter route, but -- like many others -- have found the rules to be...flexible, depending on who's asked to follow them.

The one worry he admitted to having what not knowing what to do if he couldn't find work soon. I told him to keep at it and to start asking organizations or employers that turn him down to point him in the direction of others that could help. Ken remindes me of Tim, the man I met under the bridge. They both have in common a will to keep going even when the deck is quite stacked against them. Of course, that can be the greatest weapon against their circumstances that they've got.

*He gave me his full name, but I told him I'd only be using his first name, since this'll be on the Web.

Having been conditioned to believe that with enough freedom and opportunity, hard-working individuals can easily provide for themselves, Americans see little reason to call for sweeping governmental intervention to aid the poor. In 1991, the Times-Mirror Survey, conducted by the Gallup Poll, asked respondents in thirteen countries to react to the statement: "It is the responsibility of the state (or government in the U.S.) to take care of very poor people who can't take care of themselves." Over sixty percent of those polled in Britain, France, Italy, and Spain agreed, as did fifty percent of all Germans, as compared to only twenty-three percent of Americans.

A couple of years ago, another poll, by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, asked whether "government should provide everyone with a guaranteed basic income." Only a fifth (twenty-one percent) of Americans agreed, as compared with fifty percent or more in Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands. Comparable cross-national differences were reported with respect to statements dealing with the government's responsibility to provide a "job for everyone who wants one," and a "decent standard of living for the unemployed," and to reduce sharp income differences. Asked whether it's "government's responsibility to reduce income differences," only thirty-eight percent of Americans agreed, while favorable opinion to such action ranged from sixty-five percent ( Great Britain) to eighty percent (Italy) in European nations. Citizens of the United States have a greater tendency than others to justify income differences as judged by cross-national reactions to the statement that "Large income differences are needed for the country's prosperity."

The elevated value that Americans place on non-intrusive government, carefully and constantly nurtured by corporate public relations and media propaganda, allows government to go on about its business protecting the enormous property of the wealthy few and maintaining the status quo. Released from the exigencies of protective legislation, regulations and restrictions on its use of labor, U.S. capitalists are freed of any barriers to maximizing their profit. Police, prisons and a growing apparatus of government repression guarantee the protection of their interests, should the mental stranglehold enforced by its propaganda break down. Thus American elites are able to openly attack the notion of equality and democracy, while at the same time hypocritically claiming to preserve it.

Social Darwinism: Cruelty in the Name of Natural Law
A 19th century British philosopher Herbert Spencer introduced the idea of "survival of the fittest" capitalism, a phrase that Charles Darwin appropriated to explain evolution. Spencer believed that it was the duty of the economically strong to drive the economically weak into extinction. Conservative economist George Gilder declared that the poor need the "lash of their poverty" to keep them working. And, as American progressive economist Lester Thurow thinks, "that drive was in fact the secret of capitalism's strength."

Since the late 1800s, in conjunction with the accumulation of enormous personal wealth by the "robber barons" of the time, Social Darwinism has been propagated as a secular religion in America. The phrase "survival of the fittest" entered the popular culture and was used to justify cruelty in the name of "natural law." Russell Conwell, a minister and best-selling author, for example, preached Social Darwinism with messages such as: "To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins...is to do wrong, no doubt about it,...let us remember there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings."

A growing amount of this reborn Social Darwinist propaganda openly acknowledges that entire sections of American society should be written off. To do otherwise would be in contradiction to nature. If they cannot or will not compete, they are undeserving of either assistance or the same civil rights as those who play by the rules. "If you are not prepared to shoulder personal responsibility," proclaims Newt Gingrich, "then you are not prepared to participate in American civilization." That's it.

American ideology is rife with grave contradictions when it comes to religion, Darwinism, and economics. Most of those hard-core Americans who identify themselves with the "Christian Right" refuse to accept biological Darwinism. They rail against biological Darwinism and try to banish it schools. They absolutely reject the idea that humans could have evolved from the same ancestors as monkeys through natural selection. They say this leaves no room for God. But at the same time, on the other hand, they have fully embraced the crudest form of social Darwinism.

As historian Robert S. McElvaine said:

Yet many,it is probably safe to say, most, of the people in the Christian Right are staunch advocates of social and economic Darwinism. One wonders how, if they condemn both "Godless Darwinism" and "Godless Communism," can they so readily embrace what is in fact a "Godless Marketplace"? We all know that the United States of America claims to be the world's "greatest country of equal opportunity," a "resplendent tribune of democracy" where anyone with enough spunk can rise to the top. Many people left their native countries and emigrated to America motivated by the hope of improving their lives. But in reality there has never been enough opportunity for everyone to improve his or her life in America. In fact, creating opportunity for some here always meant denying it to a very much larger number of others.

Historically, the seductive power of "upward mobility" has served to persuade most Americans to accept unjust economic conditions. In 1883, American political economist, Henry George, wrote, "The fear of want stimulates the lust for wealth, and the rich thief is honored while honest poverty is despised." The situation today is much the same and a deep-rooted selfishness and culture of greed permeates this country. As feminist author Ruth Sidel wrote in her book, Keeping Women and Children Last: America's War on the Poor:

According to Sidel, "Rather than resent the wealthy, Americans revere them, emulate them, long for a touch of the glitter and glamour of their lifestyle. Rather than being seen as enemy, the 'rich and famous' are made into icons by the media." As a cover story in the U.S. News & World Report pointed out, not only do most Americans "admire and respect the rich," but many believe that the rich honestly earned their fabulous incomes.

Blaming the poor and powerless for America's social and economic problems is far more comforting and acceptable than blaming the rich and powerful. Blaming the poor upholds a fundamental tenet of the American ideology (or the so-called "American Dream"): that individuals can dramatically alter the course of their own lives, that they can rise in the class hierarchy on their own initiative. The notion that the failure of the poor is due to their weakness of character enables others to blame the impoverished for their own poverty while simultaneously preserving the faith of those who are not poor that thepoor had had a possibility of success. "To maintain our own dream of success we must blame the poor for their failure; if their failure is due to flaws in the structure of society, these same societal limitations could thwart our dreams of success," says Ruth Sidel. As with players in the expanding state-supported gambling enterprise known as the lottery, everyone upholds the system on the chance that they have the winning ticket. But as economic analyst Stenley Lebergott says, the probability that anyone will rise from the lower ninetynine percent to the top one percent of the wealth distribution in America is less than 0.002.

The probability that anyone will rise from the lower ninetynine percent to the top one percent of the wealth distribution in America is less than 0.002.

All the social demagogy about "pulling oneself up by the bootstraps," hard work, immoral state welfare, etc., which dominates public debate in the United States today, separates most Americans from their real experience, from their common sense, from their humanity, and from each other. It never allows a serious question to be asked, such as, "How can we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps if we have no boots? Why is it our fault that we have no jobs, if our jobs have been taken away from us by some high-flying CEO terminator? How can we be responsible for finding jobs if there are none?"
I posted under another post about the heat. I skimmed the post before this, (too long) and the very last line is exactly correct: "How can we be responsible for finding jobs if there are none?"
I've been looking for work since March. If any of you reading Michael's blog know of anybody needing a great Legal Secretary, or just any kind of secretary, please let me know. The jobs just aren't out there it seems....
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