Thursday, 14 February 2013
Opinions and Demands
Well, well, well. There I was yesterday, talking about balance, talking about Facebook, and online discussion, and ZAP, it all came together in one place.
I had accepted an FB friend invite from somebody I really didn't know. I recognized the name (which obviously I shall keep to myself) as a friend of a friend from Multiply. The mutual friend is someone I like and respect very much. But as we all know, sometimes these people at one degree of separation are something else. Why did I accept the friend invite? That's not like me. I couldn't remember any reason not to, that's why. Daft but true.
It quickly became obvious we had little in common. I read most things without comment, and picked up on the fact that this person was a Republican and a Christian. I do have friends in either category and a few in both, but they tend to be exceptionally bright and open-minded examples of that section of society, a section that I really don't get, if I'm honest. That's OK, they don't get me either. But as I said, if they are wise enough, we are able to keep a friendship going and we presumably both gain something from it.
But I quickly gathered from the opinions expressed in this lady's posts that bright and open-minded wasn't even something she aimed for. Harsh, but true. You are beginning to get the idea. Nevertheless, I read her with interest. I do like to learn. It became a sort of research project. I told myself I didn't have to like what she posted, I could roll my eyes and move on, as with anything else, but I might actually pick up something useful.
OK......Having an ulterior motive to reading somebody on FB, using them as a sort of social experiment is not really very nice. Plus, I left Blogster expressly because I had run out of patience with the right-wing Christians, something I never had much of to start with. I justified it on the grounds that my exposure to this section of society has recently become almost non-existent, and that is unbalanced. You know how I love balance. And they aren't - balanced, that is. And you know how easily fascinated I am. OK. Enough with the excuses and disclaimers.
So, yesterday I unfriended her. Yep. It was a fairly swift decision after one post. It was the most useful post of all, and I decided the experiment had run its course. I had learned something significant, and would gracefully, without comment, withdraw from the scene.
So, what triggered this?
It was a graphic (which some call memes) about people receiving food stamps being able to spend them on "Easter Baskets", ready-filled containers of confectionery. This was discussed and considered to be unacceptable. It wasn't strongly-worded, and you couldn't actually take offence at the way it was discussed specifically, but the gist of it was clear. It's also a common opinion, one that I've heard espoused by plenty of people I like and allow to have that opinion. But let's look at it a bit closer.
I could, if you like, give a good case for both sides of this issue. Yes, that's my balance coming in. That's not the important part for now.
I could say, it's a matter of priority. That, when resources are limited, essentials should be at the top of the list, not frivolous, unnecessary things. Or, that if a person is poor and relying on government welfare, they should be using money they have set aside for treats to buy things like this, and not vouchers specifically intended to provide essentials of nutrition. I could even say that nobody needs an Easter Basket, poor or otherwise, and I could throw in for good measure my own personal biases because I have no need for one.
There are many ways I could justify an objection to this, without being considered too unreasonable, based on frugality, need, and so on.
Let's be honest. Many people who find themselves unable to afford essentials, are in that situation because they spent their limited resources on non-essentials. It is very difficult indeed to be sympathetic to that. Especially if I'm the person being asked to help bail them out. But even if I'm not, when I hear that somebody couldn't pay the rent because they blew half of it on concert tickets, I don't find myself brimming over with sympathy.
One of my boys right now is trying to buy his first car. He has most of the money he needs, but isn't quite there. He is selling a few less treasured personal possessions to raise funds, but I also pointed out that he can change his spending habits. He claimed to have been very economical recently, for exactly that reason, and cited, as an example, that he only bought one thing in the whole of January (a video game). I reminded him that in fact he had bought pop, coffee, and snack food items when out with friends. Naturally, he objected to these examples as being paltry amounts of money, until I made him add it all up. It came to almost $60 that could have gone towards the car, and $60 is $60. These were not things he needed at all.
Because you see, that's how my mind works. As a child I was taught, look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. It was damned good advice. I will not try to claim I always stuck to it, there are very few who do, all of the time, but when it's in the back of your mind it certainly helps with budgeting decisions. The fact is, if you only have a finite income, whatever it is, some things simply aren't important enough and that's the end of it.
However, it is one thing to believe this yourself. It is fine to guide a young person this way. It is even OK to nudge a friend who is mulling over a frivolous purchase, and remind them that it's a long time until payday. It is something else, quite another matter, to DEMAND that others never treat themselves.
I've been poor. Not dirt poor, not starving poor, but I've had to choose between food and heat. We had two young children, a mortgage, and one workman's income, and it was a stretch. I had to make careful plans and budgets, and there were no "Easter Baskets" (or equivalent thereof). But that was my decision, and my choice. You may say it was a wise choice, that's not the point. It was MINE. Nobody told me that was what I SHOULD do. Nobody gave me a guilt trip. Nobody told me, hey, you're poor and it's your own damn fault, why should your kids get treats? Nobody publicly lambasted poor people for buying their children a bit of chocolate.
Because that's what it comes down to, doesn't it? You're poor so you can't have what I have. Ner ner ner ner ner. And your children? Well, they chose to be born into such a pathetic family.
Just briefly, let's look at this is in a fully compassionate way, with absolutely no fiscal aspect to it at all.
Who needs an Easter Basket more, a poor kid who rarely gets treats, or a wealthy one who has them all the time?
I'm sure you've heard either the phrase "I'm alright Jack" or "I've got mine". This is the attitude of those with, who look at those without, and smile smugly at their own good fortune.
But in this example, in this particular FB discussion, it was those also without, resenting it. This is where it gets really interesting. From what I gleaned, all of those opposing the use of Food Stamps for an Easter Basket, specifically, were on low, limited incomes themselves. Presumably not low enough to benefit from Food Stamps, and while I don't know exactly how it works in the state in question, it is certainly a fact that in many places there is a gap between welfare recipients and struggling people, who earn too much to qualify for assistance, and end up being poorer than some people receiving it. Much has been done by government agencies in recent years to stop this happening, but it still does, and yes, the resentment is understandable. So, there's envy there, I think.
Envy is a choice, of course. There's another way one could look at this. Faced with the data, faced with experience, faced with a choice of reactions, one could say:
1. I've been there, and I made do and went without, and so can you.
2. I've been there, and I sympathize, good for you having better luck than I did.
Two personality types perhaps.
There's another aspect of this. There are assumptions. Quite a few of them, but the main assumption being that recipients of food stamps are lazy people who can't be bothered to work. Obviously, this is true in some cases, society will always have a percentage of people like that. We could let them starve to death, but we have decided not to, so their parasitic ways will continue, and that's a whole other topic of its own.
Not everyone who receives food stamps is a lazy bum. In some areas work is hard to come by, that is to say there are mathematically more people than there are jobs, and therefore somebody has to be unemployed. In addition, many, many people who receive food stamps have jobs. They are just so low-paid it's not enough to feed their families on. Whose fault is this? That could lead to discussions about minimum wage, and so on, until we get to the greed of the 1% at the top and I have no desire to do that one today. Let's just stick to the situation at hand. There are people working 40 hours a week who receive food stamps.
There's another group who receive food stamps. The chronically sick, or disabled. Sometimes it is health that prevents a person from working, or forces them into a lower paid job. Some of these are military veterans. Hold that thought for a moment. A soldier returns from an overseas war, injured either physically or mentally, and is forced to rely on food stamps to support his family, and people resent him being able to give his kids an Easter Basket?
Ah, well that's different of course. All the people that thought it was wrong a minute ago suddenly want him to be an exception. They'll make an exception for all sorts of individuals, actually, when they hear their story. If they gave it enough time, if they stopped to listen, everyone has a story. Even the parasites.
So this is the other view of the whole issue. The view from compassion. The view that doesn't judge people without knowing the details of their situation. The view that says, for fuck's sake it's just a few chocolates. The view that says we give way more than this to the rich, all the time. Yes, WE. We as western society allow more government hand-outs to those who don't need them, than to those who do.
I was actually touched by the idea that a state government, not exactly known for their generosity, would allow this simple treat. Oh, and by the way, anyone objecting to the nutritional value, considering we are talking about FOOD stamps.....take a look at what is already permitted to buy with them. Much of it is garbage. If a nutritional expert was to decide what was permitted, and what wasn't, chocolate would be in, and much of the crap would be out. But governments have never been in the business of ensuring that people get good nutrition, despite their claims. All they have ever done is stop people actually starving to death. Malnutrition is allowed.
Finally, when all is said and done, no matter what you think about poor people, whether you are one yourself or not, whether you think they are all parasites or not, this is about their kids. If children are not the innocent parties here then nobody is. They have no say in the matter about their family's income.
Even this is not my main point. My point is that it is OK to decide for yourself that you don't need Easter Baskets, but it's not OK to force that opinion onto others. This is the bigger issue. This is the attitude of those right-wing types that I cannot stomach. This lack of compassion, the inability or unwillingness to put themselves in the shoes of others. Especially when they claim to be Christian, and forget simple ideas like "There, but for the grace of God, go I". They forget to be their brother's keeper. They conveniently forget so many aspects of their own religion that ask them to help the poor without judging them or placing conditions on them. Then they look down their noses at us unbelievers. OK.
I will now allow for the fact that the people in the discussion I witnessed, which seemed narrow-minded, uncaring, and uncharitable, are just stupid. That's a harsh word, but there it is. Stupidity is defined as not only not knowing/understanding, but not trying to. And because I would be just as stupid if I didn't allow for the fact that they may be stupid, if you see what I mean, that is the kindest thing I can say. Calling somebody stupid isn't usually considered kind, but I will go further and say, perhaps they can't help it. Perhaps they were raised that way and got bogged down in a culture of the same. Perhaps their lesson is yet to come. Perhaps if I painstakingly explained it to them, they'd get it. Perhaps.
It's obvious to any casual observer that I have a touch of the bleeding heart about me, but I believe that's what happens if you look at all the possibilities. I tend to place altruism above just about anything else, even when at my most cynical, because that's just how I roll. I don't expect everyone else to do so, although it would be nice, but we're all different, and some movers and shakers (that the world needs) achieve stuff that ultimately benefits others despite their personal greed and selfishness, and that's how the world works. It's a funny old world.
I'm just saying that that was quite long enough for that experiment.