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Rest is a luxury for the rich
November 13, 2013 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts. "This is what our lives are like, and here are our defense mechanisms, and here is why we think differently." (SLKinja)

"Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It's why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It's more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that's all you get. You're probably not compatible with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don't plan long-term because if we do we'll just get our hearts broken. It's best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it."

(The comments section is worthwhile, particularly as the writer responds patiently to those who attack her for her vices.)
posted by Kybard (277 comments total) 140 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very well-written!

I got a little confused about Kinja (is that an internet famous person I should know?), so I googled "who is Kinja" and it turns out Kinja is a what: Kinja is Gawker Media's discussion platform.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:55 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


We don't apply for jobs because we know we can't afford to look nice enough to hold them. I would make a super legal secretary, but I've been turned down more than once because I "don't fit the image of the firm," which is a nice way of saying "gtfo, pov." I am good enough to cook the food, hidden away in the kitchen, but my boss won't make me a server because I don't "fit the corporate image." I am not beautiful. I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on b12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that's how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn't much point trying.
I work in a warehouse. A lot of the people who work here, myself included, are bulky in the wrong places. They have bad skin, pale from the lack of sunlight. Their hair is dull, no doubt for the same reason. We all breathe in the dust that the air conditioner's exhaust coughs out. The nice middle-class people in the main office, where there are cubicles and a low ceiling, don't look that much different. It often feels like most of the people here are at least middle-aged.

Occasionally, some representatives for the vendors will show up at the will-call desk. They're often young, good-looking, and muscular from working in the gym, not from lifting boxes all day. One time, a trucker I work with, as we passed a pair of them on our way outside, mocked them under his breath: "We are way too pretty to work here."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:59 AM on November 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


The people who are being shitty to her should maybe read more and spout less.

Willpower, Poverty and Financial Decision-Making (.pdf)

Economic decision-making in poverty depletes cognitive control (.pdf)
posted by rtha at 10:00 AM on November 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


The book Scarcity: Why Having So Little Means So Much is a really interesting read on how the scarcity mindset leads to bad -- but completely rational -- decisions.
posted by selfmedicating at 10:00 AM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


This was a fascinating article, and I have been in these spaces. I've dropped out of college 3 times because I couldn't handle working and mounting stresses and making sure that the bills were paid. It read like my entire 20s, just trying to scrape by, making horrible relationship choices, and only by a fluke did I end up with a job that pulled me out of part of that cycle. I can't get a bank account with the bank I want because my ex-husband wrote bad checks on an account I'd been removed from, but the bank was bought by another one, and they refuse to do anything about it.

I don't know how this woman is surviving on 3 hours of sleep, I did it for about 3 years and had a complete nervous breakdown. I'm lucky enough now to have a savings account and pay all my bills, but it took me 5 years of financial stability to make smart money choices instead of choices based on the idea that the money would all be gone before I got anything fun out of it.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 10:02 AM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's interesting to read this post and compare it to the one a few weeks ago, about buying "luxury" items while poor. I thought that post had some problems it could have worked through to be a better article, but this one: dang.

I have never been poor. Do you know what I mean? At different points in my life I or my legal guardians have had very, very little money. But I have never been poor. Because having very little money is a product of temporary circumstance, but poor is a state of being. Poor is who you are (because it's who you were told you are). Poor gets in your bones. And man, it's a lot easier to change your *circumstances* than it is to change *you*, especially when all of your previous attempts to change your mindset (and the attempts of those around you, by example) about things has just lead to you getting punched in the face by Reality.

So keep your head down. Take the small good things. Don't try to break out into something new and alien. Because the try will hurt you, and it will never work.

I'm not saying that's how it has to be, or how it should be. But baby, that is (for many people, as far as I know) how it is.

Great post. Thanks Kybard.
posted by Poppa Bear at 10:06 AM on November 13, 2013 [18 favorites]


She is articulate, which makes for a great article, but unfortunately has allowed her to contrive some convincing justifications for smoking and junk food.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:06 AM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


The "going to school" part of this article seems incongruous with the defeatism of the rest of it. Why bother going to school if, "I will never not be poor"? At least if you didn't go to class you could get some more sleep.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:07 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


The most remarkable thesis that Mullainathan and Shafir propose in their Scarcity is an abstract unity between different kinds of tunnelling scarcity: time scarcity is fundamentally cut from the same cloth as money scarcity, and they are all cut from the same cloth as other kinds of scarcity: hunger, loneliness, etc.

It seems to me that many of the base features of our current conception of money is scarcity of it, and the base features of our current conception of what time is, has much to do with the scarcity of it. Which is how it can possibly be the case that so many rich people can feel so deprived: the problem of modernity, rephrased.
posted by curuinor at 10:09 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


allowed her to contrive some convincing justifications for smoking and junk food.

I don't find them contrived at all. One of the reasons I recommended the comments is that she addresses that criticism in particular in more detail in posts like this one:

"To put it another way, how long do you think you would last without something of your very own, a tiny luxury that is yours? Assume that it is your job to care for a mentally ill veteran. And that your parents are aging and need you. And you have to work more than one job because neither pays enough. And that you are the one who has to remember the trash going out and the casseroles being thawed and the diapers being bought. And that if you are ever going to do better, you also have to perform at top capacity to earn promotions in both your jobs. Assume also that you have a history of mental illness in your family and that you yourself want nothing more than the luxury of giving into that genetic lottery, because if you stop for one second you will melt and then everyone will starve.

"If all those things are true about you, if you bring in hundreds every week and it goes to bills and food and medical debt, how long do you think you would last without sometimes grabbing a sandwich between shifts, without any moments to call your own?"
posted by Kybard at 10:11 AM on November 13, 2013 [48 favorites]


has allowed her to contrive some convincing justifications for smoking and junk food

Did you read the same article that I did? There's nothing contrived about it. Smoking is clearly a strategy for dealing with exhaustion (mental and physical), and junk food is a provider of a few minutes' respite from the shittiness of being poor. It's a coping mechanism, surely, but why is the need for such in any way a contrivance?
posted by axiom at 10:12 AM on November 13, 2013 [56 favorites]


To put it another way, how long do you think you would last without something of your very own, a tiny luxury that is yours?

I'm not saying that I can't relate, but she must realize that there are healthier luxuries.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:14 AM on November 13, 2013


A couple of questions and a comment: Why is it hard to get a bank account due to the Patriot act? Honestly asking and wanting to understand so I have one more reason to be against the damn thing.

I get that the writer wants to believe smoking is in some way relaxing her but every available amount of research says it's not. I'd rather she save the money she spends on smokes and use it to buy food or even some cheap wine which would actually provide some relaxation and won't expose her kids to second-hand smoke.

"With that said, I have had a lot of people ask to use my work. Please do. Share it with the world if you found value in it."

I sincerely hope anyone who asks to republish her work pays her because if not that makes a sad situation totally tragic.
posted by photoslob at 10:14 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


This. Also have to add -- if people with all the advantages in the world of education, fortune, family, etc., cannot behave themselves any better than say, Bill Bennett or Larry Craig or Newt Gingrich, than how on EARTH can we expect those without advantages to be consistently wise and saintly? It's the crudest and most ignorant form of hypocrisy that exists.

Have to add my favorite George Orwell quotation:
“Would it not be better if they [the poor] spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t…When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’.
posted by jfwlucy at 10:15 AM on November 13, 2013 [126 favorites]


I'm not saying that I can't relate, but she must realize that there are healthier luxuries.

She probably also realizes that she CAN'T FUCKING AFFORD THEM. You, however, don't.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:16 AM on November 13, 2013 [71 favorites]


I'm not saying that I can't relate, but she must realize that there are healthier luxuries.

Well no, not really; that's the point. This crap is all she can afford; furthermore, if she went to a fancy chocolatier or bake shop or whole foods or whatever, she could afford very little, and may not enjoy what she got because of long habit of eating mass-produced processed junk food.
posted by Mister_A at 10:16 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


She says quite clearly that smoking is a stimulant. It helps her to go the required distance on very little sleep. I don't see how cheap wine would in any way be a suitable substitute. I guess you could make an argument for No-Doz or something, but I am not sure that's terribly healthy either.
posted by axiom at 10:17 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


esprit de l'escalier: "She must realize that there are healthier luxuries."

Must be nice up there.
posted by notsnot at 10:17 AM on November 13, 2013 [66 favorites]


When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.

Thorstein Veblen wrote this, too, in Theory of the Leisure Class. Published 1899.

Yup, 1899.
posted by rue72 at 10:18 AM on November 13, 2013 [15 favorites]


I'm not saying that I can't relate, but she must realize that there are healthier luxuries.

It's not just that it's a luxury, though. From the same comment: "It's not a question of dying young from something preventable or not. It's a question of dying young from something preventable or dying young from something preventable... So given that the statistics tell us that, and given that nicotine is both a stimulant and a mood enhancer, and given that smoking is still cheaper than antidepressants and the other associated medicines I do not take that do essentially what smoking does, it makes sense. "

Smoking is a stress release valve for her and a sleep deterrent -- a way to survive the day chemically and psychologically. It works well for that, despite the health problems, and she doesn't have the money or opportunity to afford less harm-inducing methods to help with the same problems.
posted by Kybard at 10:19 AM on November 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


I smoke too when I'm stressed out and I'm not even poor. Hate me instead internet hater dicks, I can afford the energy to fight with you.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:20 AM on November 13, 2013 [99 favorites]


Hate me too! I eat chocolate sometimes, and I drank a soda the other night, and I don't have that much money!
posted by Mister_A at 10:21 AM on November 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


A couple of questions and a comment: Why is it hard to get a bank account due to the Patriot act? Honestly asking and wanting to understand so I have one more reason to be against the damn thing.

You need valid ID, which the urban poor skip because they don't drive and usually don't need it to vote. You can get a non-driver ID, but few people know about it. Once you have one, it's usually pretty easy, but bootstrapping can be a challenge.
posted by pwnguin at 10:21 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


$45 a month (what she says she spends on cigarettes) is very little - $1.50 a day. She could get...a candybar? A very cheap coffee? A couple of donuts? I don't think $45 even gets you very much weed, right?

I am not rich, but I don't have kids and my parents are financially stable (god willing). Frankly, I haven't even been able to quit the fucking diet soda, and I'm not under the pressures she is under. I think that folks should consider our own foolish, quasi-compulsive purchases or habits when we're looking at hers. I think many, many of us spend money in less than optimal ways - how many people buy a coffee every day, for instance? Why aren't you socking that into your retirement account? The future is pretty uncertain, after all. Well, obviously because we have to live in the present, you want a coffee and it perks you up when you're tired, all of which are pretty reasonable reasons.

I'm finding it really tiring to work one job and go back to school and maintain my house and meet my other responsibilities and cook myself homemade meals and get a little exercise. I don't even begin to understand how she does what she does even in the most half-assed way.
posted by Frowner at 10:22 AM on November 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


I'm not saying that I can't relate, but she must realize that there are healthier luxuries.

Seriously? This is your takeaway from reading this? To echo many of the previous posters, she probably can't afford "healthier" luxuries. Whatever gets you through the day, is what I say. And for her, it's cigarettes. It's her call.
posted by Kitteh at 10:23 AM on November 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yes, despite myths to the contrary, many poor people work very, very hard to try to keep their heads above water. It is nearly impossible for some people to get to the driver's license center while holding down two jobs, caring for family members, etc.

Not saying everyone faces this challenge, but the poor face it more often than the rest.
posted by Mister_A at 10:23 AM on November 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


Do we really have to do this thing again where every time there's an article about a poor person, some jackass explains how they would not make the same decisions that the poor person made, and then we argue about that for 400 comments?
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:25 AM on November 13, 2013 [68 favorites]


Getting a valid ID also takes: 1. a birth certificate which those from poor or chaotic backgrounds don't often have and 2. Time, which obviously is the biggest difficulty.

Good for her too for going to school. If I was in her life I would be drinking a lot. I am in my life and I drink a lot. This post is depressing and heartening at the same time.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:25 AM on November 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


> I get that the writer wants to believe smoking is in some way relaxing her but every available amount of research says it's not.

She's not talking about that kind of relaxation. Nicotine is a stimulant and an appetite suppressant, and it also allows you to "relax" by walking out of the office/restaurant/workplace for a few minutes and not talk to anyone or do anything but smoke.

> $45 a month (what she says she spends on cigarettes) is very little - $1.50 a day. She could get...a candybar? A very cheap coffee? A couple of donuts? I don't think $45 even gets you very much weed, right?

None of those gets you the X minutes per/time period where you can walk away from your work and just do your smoking. I think some of you really don't understand either how addictive nicotine is (physically and psychologically) and that using it operates in a totally different mental and social context from eating a donut. I do both and trust me, they're different.
posted by rtha at 10:26 AM on November 13, 2013 [40 favorites]


Tell ya what, those who bitch about her smoking: pick up the habit, then try to quit it while having a stressful life. I had a hell of a time quitting smoking at the most mellow point in my life.
posted by notsnot at 10:27 AM on November 13, 2013 [15 favorites]


(I wasn't suggesting that she get a donut instead, just to clarify - but that's a good point, that it is socially legitimate to "need" a cigarette in a lot of situations where "I need (coffee/donut/to wash my face/a quick walk around the hallway" would not be acceptable)
posted by Frowner at 10:28 AM on November 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Damn now I want a smoke and a beer.
posted by Mister_A at 10:28 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


What are the healthier luxuries? Organic carrots? Bottled water? Another side-effect of being poor is that strangers have no problem examining your receipt of food purchases and criticizing it. Anyone want to submit to that kind of scrutiny? Let's look at your recent Trader Joe's purchases here...

Why is it hard to get a bank account due to the Patriot act?

Also, if you are really poor, you've probably had a bank account closed due to insufficient funds. Good luck going to Bank of America with that on your record. There is this system called Chexsystems and if you have a negative rating there, you essentially can't get open a bank account. The Patriot Act is supposed to prevent terrorists from funneling money through US banks (ID Defend) but what it ends up doing is preventing anyone with a negative account past from opening a future account.
posted by mattbucher at 10:28 AM on November 13, 2013 [25 favorites]


I don't think smoking is a luxury for her as much as a coping strategy for getting through what sounds like an awful existence but with that said if she's simply using cigarettes to keep herself awake why not buy a big can of folgers and use the caffeine to keep sleep at bay?

Isn't it possible to be compassionate about her situation while also wanting her to come out the other side of it as healthy as possible? Same for her kids?
posted by photoslob at 10:29 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


She is writing even more and better stuff in the comment threads (as Kybard said) such as:

The thing that I have noticed is that a poor person will have zero idea what to do with a 401K should they get one. A rich person will have no idea how to cash a check if they don't have a bank account. It's a completely different skillset with disparate goals and values and norms. It is definitely a different culture.

This is a person who is very eloquently describing the caste system as it exists in America, and I can't believe it's going to be all, "Wow, she's defending smoking and junk food!" AGAIN.

I loved this piece, not least because the water at my house was disconnected this morning. My husband grew up poor (living from crisis-to-crisis with a teen mom,) and it is ingrained in him to ignore the bills until shut-off notices come. AND WE HAVE THE MONEY.

Thanks for posting this, I wouldn't have seen it otherwise.

Do we really have to do this thing again where every time there's an article about a poor person, some jackass explains how they would not make the same decisions that the poor person made, and then we argue about that for 400 comments?
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:25 AM on November 13 [3 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


THISTHISTHISTHISTHIS.
posted by polly_dactyl at 10:29 AM on November 13, 2013 [56 favorites]


I get so MAD at my poorer friends for making stupid life choices (in private, I don't tell them). It's just hard to watch people drop out of school and take dead end jobs and buy expensive things on credit. But it's incredibly difficult to make good decisions when you're living in the moment.
posted by miyabo at 10:30 AM on November 13, 2013


The "going to school" part of this article seems incongruous with the defeatism of the rest of it. Why bother going to school if, "I will never not be poor"? At least if you didn't go to class you could get some more sleep.

I doubt this is the case for her, but a lot of people sign up for classes as a way to get money (through grants and loans). They'll max out the loans, go to class through the final disbursement day, and then quit. The next semester they'll do it all again.

Then about ten years later they've timed out of grants and maxed out their loans, and they'll quit with the school thing. But up to then some people see it as free money. They often end up without getting even an associates', partially because they have a bunch of withdrawals and partially because they started out taking all "remedial" and "study skills" and "gym" classes in the first place.
posted by rue72 at 10:30 AM on November 13, 2013


Do we really have to do this thing again where every time there's an article about a poor person, some jackass explains how they would not make the same decisions that the poor person made, and then we argue about that for 400 comments?

The article's author, infinitely to her credit, seems to relish the opportunity to be explaining herself to those who have these kinds of arguments/feelings/presumptions.

It's a conversation that (not necessarily on MeFi, but) needs to happen again and again because it's so easy (speaking as a guy from a middle-to-upper-middle-class family with all the privileges that one could have) to be oblivious to fundamental cultural differences among the desperately poor, and to (somewhat) innocently not understand pretty much anything. A gentle, patient touch is requires, and this woman's degree of patience boggles my mind.
posted by Kybard at 10:31 AM on November 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also, I can't imagine that someone who can write a piece like that hasn't already thought about gosh, drinking coffee instead! I mean come on, folks. The "she should just" in this thread and the link are seriously unnecessary.

And I guess it's not just gawker commenters who should read the pdf links I posted above.
posted by rtha at 10:31 AM on November 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Valid IDs are a fucking pain when you only need one like once every few years.

I went down to the wire with my DHS proof of citizenship, I had to get a new birth certificate and state id or they were going to have to let me go. I was able to leave work and go to the DMV and sit there till I got a temporary valid ID without losing money but I am very lucky.

I smoke too, but I roll my own so I don't have any real cigarettes. If anyone wants a smoke I can roll you one though.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:31 AM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


No, there aren't any healthier luxuries. There really aren't. And smoking is a fucking lifeline sometimes, when you're depressed and exhausted and have to keep on going anyway. Cigarettes can feel like your only friend and they are also often a friend who gives you a gift: the only way you can take a break when you're working bullshit low wage jobs. Since I quit smoking last year I don't get breaks anymore - no, I have to stand up for 4 hours straight without ever resting and many jobs ask for more than that. Smoking is a chance to sit down.

Over the last two years I have gotten the increasingly less rare chance to be seriously poor. I have a nice knapsack of privilege called growing up upper middle class and being educated and a roof over my head but that's all I have, now. I'm not making great decisions these days either. It hardly seems to matter when you have $10 in the bank and are planning, rationally planning, possible ways to scam a dentist so you can actually get a toothache fixed. Welcome to our world. There aren't any healthier luxuries here.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:32 AM on November 13, 2013 [34 favorites]


This thread is an excellent illustration of why I keep people who have always been middle class at a distance if I befriend them. They are incapable of understanding my life.

As far as going to school without any hope of advancement, it is a small way to have self esteem. Yeah it will never mean anything, but school is one place in life that hard work can mean something.
posted by winna at 10:32 AM on November 13, 2013 [28 favorites]


We all have our vices, but the first step forward is always being honest about our motivations and where we want to be. Think about the progress you made in your life. Do you remember when you were in the grips of waking up late, or not doing the dishes, or whatever it was? Do you remember how you had the greatest justifications? Can you remember the beginning progress? It starts with being honest about why you do what you do, and in this sense, the article is true to form. What comes next, is the repudiation of the litany of excuses.

That's the difficulty with inventiveness: it allows you to envision the hidden truth of your situation, but mires you in a sea of your own rationalizations.

I think we all know how ridiculous it is to declare that "I smoke for energy"! Of course she knows it is a lie too, and so I see the article as the beginning of something rather than an ending.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:32 AM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think some of you really don't understand either how addictive nicotine is (physically and psychologically) and that using it operates in a totally different mental and social context from eating a donut.

I used to smoke like a frickin chimney because of a high-stress job and a shitty life situation and during that period there were all sorts of things that were out of my control but the one thing that was most definitely my responsibility was my over drinking and my smoking. If I could go back and give myself some advice it would be to stop smoking and stop drinking because all that behavior did was make a shitty situation even shittier. I feel for the author and I'm not being judgmental and it's stupid that I'm writing this here but one of the best things she'll ever do in her life is stop smoking.
posted by photoslob at 10:33 AM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why doesn't she eat cake?
posted by Floydd at 10:36 AM on November 13, 2013 [87 favorites]


Wow. I kind of want to get a megaphone just so I can shout this article from the rooftops. Thank you for posting it.

My favorite parts:

"You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn't give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don't apply for jobs because we know we can't afford to look nice enough to hold them."

"...most poor people will never set foot on a college campus. We don't belong there."

"It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to. There's a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there's money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning."

I am often grilled or ridiculed for my lifelong inability to manage money, and occasionally asked outright why or how I could choose to spend over a decade racking up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt by traveling the world. This line of questioning is an immediate tell that the person interrogating me has never been poor, because when you're poor for your whole life, your "immediate benefit vs. long-term cost" meter gets broken. I wanted to have those experiences before I died, and there was no other way for me to get them: that's it, that's the only reason why. It was either maxing out yet another Visa card or shuffling off this mortal coil having never set foot in my beloved heart-home of Birmingham (UK), and I chose the former. And I am so happy that I did. I feel so lucky every day. I don't care how long it takes me to pay it all off or how much more I end up spending than I would have if I would have just worked for decades to save up -- I did not want to die without those experiences, being poor means feeling like you have no future so I grew up thinking I might die at any moment, but now those experiences cannot be taken from me no matter how much debt I have. Mission fucking accomplished.

Besides, what was I supposed to do, open a savings account? Jesus, I was making $6.50 an hour. And what the fuck was I supposed to save for, a fucking college education? Man, you might as well have told me to start saving for my next trip to Mars. Poor people don't go to college, we don't know how to do that shit! It really feels like scholarships and financial aid are for well-connected, motivated, and intelligent poors with stronger bootstraps or better families than the rest of us. Because the rest of us were born and raised to internalize exactly one piece of knowledge: you must do whatever you need to do to be able to eat and keep a roof over your head. Everything else is for rich people. If we are lucky, we will be able to grind away at entry-level jobs until we keel over and kick the bucket and if we are not, we will starve and die on the street.

While I do know EXACTLY how much money I have available to me at all times, tangible and intangible, every second of every day, money has never felt numerable or even finite to me. It just feels like access. The balance in my checking account is nothing more than an indirect display of how much power and influence I will ever be able to have on the world. I've been out of the projects for over a decade now but the relentless grind of poverty, only getting to live like a normal person in those brief moments when other folks felt like being charitable? That still informs my every waking thought.

I watch how my wealthy friends navigate in the world and it is just so fucking foreign to me -- they can literally afford to make their lives easier. It runs the gamut from being able to hire people to assist them with basic tasks and purchasing items whose sole purpose is to minimize stress and hassle to being able to spend lavishly on high-quality personal accoutrements that last for years and indicate to the world at large that you are monied enough to be thoughtful and patient with your purchasing decisions. This stands in stark opposition to poor folks who have to shell out for the very first barely-affordable apartment/car/jacket/pair of shoes that comes along without having the luxury of worrying about whether it's going to completely fall apart on you a few months or even weeks later.

One of the many tiny wisdoms that have occurred to me as I've gotten older is that money greases the very gears of life. When I was a kid, I used to think that the way you could tell a poor person and a rich person apart is that the rich person would have more and better stuff. As an adult, I know that the way you can tell poor and rich folks apart is that the rich folks are just less worried about everything. They are so secure in their belief that they will wake up each day housed, clothed, and fed that it doesn't even register on their radar screen. It creates this impenetrable, invisible insouciance that is at once overwhelmingly enviable and goddamned infuriating. I honestly can't imagine what that must feel like.
posted by divined by radio at 10:36 AM on November 13, 2013 [157 favorites]


I've actually done a fair of time reading research about smoking and executive function and performance. The boost given by smoking, and the deficits that result from not smoking DO INDEED make quitting a luxury that the poor can not afford. I'm not saying they might not be better served never starting it, but when you combine the fact that daily life is hell, poverty depletes cognitive control and smoking BOOSTS cognitive performance (I have read tons of papers on it there is a lot of research done).

Most people can not afford to be unable to perform on the job for the many months it can take to get back to normal. Not to mention smoking can stabilize (though possibly slowly worsen) the chronic stresses and breakdowns that can be a part of daily life when you can't always pay bills, people around you are violent on drugs, going crazy--- you have to choose between paying rent or finding a sugar daddy here and there.... smoking is HELPFUL when you're in the trenches.

Fuck anyone who judges how people survive hell. Seriously. I can't function as well since quitting smoking and I NEVER would have made it through quitting without my families help because I couldn't do ANYTHING and my executive performance is still shit compared to when I was a smoker. I could at least get through the days then and get my brain to work when needed.

The side effects of smoking are terrible, but so are the side effects of chemo. Who the FUCK dares to judge cancer patients for using chemo?

You can to eat and have somewhere to sleep. You have to make it through the day at your job to eat and have somewhere to sleep. I don't think smoking is healthy, I also don't want anyone anywhere to have to do chemo.

People make the choices they need to when faced with terrible terrible conditions.

If people are still debating this I WILL POST LIKE 20 STUDIES ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NICOTINE AND COGNITIVE PERFORMANCE?EMOTIONAL STABILITY UP IN HERE. It's going to take me forever though because I have such more executive function and it takes me forever to search and find things I've already read.
posted by xarnop at 10:38 AM on November 13, 2013 [26 favorites]


I am currently middle-class. Possibly even upper middle class, in terms of income (thank you, programming). I grew up dirt poor. Many of her points ring true, looking at my family; luckily, my mom spent a chunk of her meager welfare money to buy me books, didn't buy any luxuries herself, and my grandmother gave me a (cheap) computer when I was a kid, whereupon I learned the skill that brings the bacon today.

I still think there are things that could be done differently in her story. Smoking is a drain, stimulant or no. (Tea is also a stimulant, and is dirt cheap. Just go to a local ethnic grocery and buy loose leaf.) She puts "having kids" against "having abortions," which is just nuts. Condoms cost almost nothing. Cooking doesn't attract roaches, being dirty attracts roaches. The trouble is cleaning is hard, and cooking is dirty until you're practiced enough to clean as you go.

There is also a certain amount of defeatism in the idea that being poor now guarantees you'll be poor later. It makes it harder to escape, of course, but it's not inevitable.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:40 AM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


This makes some really, really good points.

I moved to a new country a few months ago and for a number of weird reasons, can't get a bank account for a least a few more weeks. I have credit and debit cards from the US that I can use and still not having a banking account is a inconvenience. It would be a massive problem that would force me to go back home if I didn't have savings to fall back on while my pay gets figured out and family that I can ask to write a check for me and pay back later. I can even choose to wait to cash checks until I get a bank account because I'll save ~$50 since I don't desperately need the paycheck right this second. But when I need cash, paying the ATM fee isn't a big deal. It would be very, very easy for this to be a life-changing problem.

Buying a candy bar is a simple, easy way to feel like I have some control over good things in my life and I'm running out of patience and willpower from dealing with work or bureaucracy. It sounds like smoking provides a similar thing as well as actual short-term benefits.
posted by raeka at 10:40 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


such "slow" executive function. I will leave the typos to demonstrate MY BRAIN WITHOUT NICOTINE.

I am on tea right now. It does not work the same. Seriously.
posted by xarnop at 10:41 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


The patriot act requires that banks verify who you are with valid ID (costs something and is a PITA to get.) Also, if you've ever had shitty credit, the bank you like may choose not to give you a checking account. They're linked, so if you've screwed up with one bank, no other bank will help you out.

Most checking accounts cost something every month, and even $5, let alone $15 is real money if you're poor. Try to find a credit union in a poor neighborhood.

The economy for poor people is completely different than it is for middle-class people.

I once had no bank account, ate on $20 per week and had no access to credit. It was only two years, but it was the hardest two years of my life!

I'm resiliant enough to know that it was temporary. But if it's all you've ever known, I can see how you'd get into a self-perpetuating cycle. Shit, if you do it too long, you may end up never climbing out.

Excellent piece, but it makes you want to shake her and show her the way out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:41 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Reading some of the comments in this thread, I think it's unfortunate that people are suggesting that smoking is actually a good idea for her. I thought the article was about understanding her poor choices — not justifying them as good choices for her.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:42 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


If people are still debating this I WILL POST LIKE 20 STUDIES ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NICOTINE AND COGNITIVE PERFORMANCE?

What if the New York smoking bans were actually just classist?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:42 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I thought the article was about understanding her poor choices — not justifying them as good choices for her.

Not necessarily good, but certainly rational.
posted by Floydd at 10:43 AM on November 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Reading some of the comments in this thread, I think it's unfortunate that people are suggesting that smoking is actually a good idea for her.

It seems like you concluded the latter without actually doing the former.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:44 AM on November 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


I think everyone needs a certain amount of 'pleasure', for lack of a better word, in their lives. Most of us who are not mired in poverty get it from our nice jobs, relaxing times with friends, families, recreations, or just our quiet time...as well as from "vices". When we wish to quit our more unhealthy vices we have those other sources of pleasure to fall back on. Lucky us.

People like this article's author just have vices. Nothing else. To expect them to quit an unhealthy habit with nothing available or affordable to replace it is asking them to live a life with zero pleasure. Could you do that?
posted by rocket88 at 10:45 AM on November 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


Smoking and caffeine may both be stimulants, but they don't fit the same need. You can find a place to smoke almost anywhere. For tea or coffee, you need a source of hot water, a mug, possibly a coffee maker. Plus the cost in time to go to a separate, local ethnic grocery store (which can be really common or not, depending on where you live) in addition to the every day grocery store.
posted by raeka at 10:45 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


esprit, smoking IS a good idea for her if it suppresses her appetite, improves her cognitive function, lifts her mood, and gives her endurance for shitty days. It is a reasonable decision to make, even in the face of cancer and emphysema in the long term.
posted by jfwlucy at 10:45 AM on November 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


I didn't say it was "good for her" myself- but if smoking helps someone make it one more day at work vs lose their job they will probably do it. And if you wind up homeless the conditions are so terrible any form of painkiller is often a lot nicer than not having it.

If people with money and jobs want to help the very poor/homeless yeah I would say actually helping with housing first programs, better job placement for people with specific types of abilities or struggles in the work place rather than just legislating away their coping mechanisms and leaving them in the streets.
posted by xarnop at 10:46 AM on November 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've come to this place in life where if you say something is true about yourself, I'm inclined to listen and learn as opposed to tell you all the ways you could be better. Now, if you are in my life daily up close and personally affecting me in a negative way with your choices, then yeah, I'm up in your shit, but an internet stranger? I'm good with your truth.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:47 AM on November 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


"Good" and "rational" are not the same.
posted by rtha at 10:47 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is also a certain amount of defeatism in the idea that being poor now guarantees you'll be poor later. It makes it harder to escape, of course, but it's not inevitable.

There have been articles posted on the Blue about slowing class mobility in America, right? I think you could read this article as a description of the phenomenon from an individual's point of view.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:47 AM on November 13, 2013 [14 favorites]


Seriously, you guys, the thing you're taking away from this is HEY SMOKING IS BAD MKAY?

Part of the point of this, as I read it, was that you make the choices that you can make given the options you're given. Sometimes, all your options are bad. You still end up picking one and going with it.

Smoking is bad for you. Is smoking better or worse than the chronic stress of never having a minute or a thing to yourself? Is it better or worse than the brief mental health breaks that it can provide? For all that people hate on smokers, it's still socially acceptable to walk outside for five minutes for a smoke break. Over the course of a day, it can add up to maybe a whole half hour of no one needing anything from you, a half hour where you get to go and sit and do something that you find enjoyable.

It's doubly true if you know or feel that you've effectively got no future. Who cares if you die of lung cancer when you know that the rest of your life is going to be an endless grind. Do you want an extra five years of grinding, or do you want that blessed half hour a day where you can sit and breathe? Because I gotta say--I'd go for smoking.
posted by MeghanC at 10:48 AM on November 13, 2013 [32 favorites]


I thought the article was about understanding her poor choices — not justifying them as good choices for her.

Yet again from that reply I linked in my first response to you:

"I am self-medicating in the most accessible way I can. It's better than doing drugs or escaping into a bottle. Like I said, I never said my decisions were good. I only said that they were the best of my practical range of options."
posted by Kybard at 10:48 AM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was unable to work for a year after quitting smoking.

You really think it would been a "bad" choice for me to keep smoking if I hadn't had family to help me through that?

Look I don't like adhd meds but this is like telling someone with adhd they can't use their meds to survive and hold a job.

Poverty wrecks your brain and nicotine is a legitimate treatment for it, albeit with some serious long term side effects.

But DEATH is a side effect of not eating or sleeping in the cold or not having a locked door to keep you safe from attacks.

So yeah it's a totally legitimate choice for some people to make.
posted by xarnop at 10:50 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Smoking is clearly a strategy for dealing with exhaustion (mental and physical), and junk food is a provider of a few minutes' respite from the shittiness of being poor. It's a coping mechanism, surely, but why is the need for such in any way a contrivance?

Well, I think we can empathize with this woman without pretending her bad decisions are actually good decisions.

Let's take smoking. I was a pack-a-day smoker for 12 years. Even when I was a smoker, I don't think I would have ever portrayed smoking as something that made me more alert. Yeah, it's part of your morning routine (because you've gone 8 hours without a cigarette) and you do it on breaks (because you've gone an hour or more without a cigarette), but it never makes you more alert than, say, someone who doesn't smoke at all. In fact, that's the entire nature of addiction : after a while, you no longer get a buzz. You become a maintenance user. At that point, it may feel like smoking makes you happier or more alert or whatever, but that's only because smoking a cigarette offers you temporary respite from withdrawal symptoms.

However, quitting can hard. I could easily see how someone with an impoverished, stressful life would not rank quitting as one of the top priorities in their life. This is another way in which being poor can harm someone's health.

Onto junk food. Junk food is not particularly tasty. Sure, a Big Mac tastes good, but a fillet mignon from a nice steakhouse tastes better. French fries may taste good, but roasted veggies can taste a whole lot better. Thing is, the junk food is what's available to her, whereas the steak and roasted veggies are not. So it's a little disingenuous to say that "poor people need junk food to feel good", when in fact, they'd probably be happier with better food were it available to them.
posted by evil otto at 10:53 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh Man, y'all should have seen the comments from the Usual Suspect Facebook "Libertarians" when this got posted last night. Even after posting Spent, they still don't get how being down and out is a self perpetuating condition almost regardless of your choices. At least one mother and daughter I know aren't speaking to each other after the argument about whether "hard work pays off" got personal.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:54 AM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is it ignorant to ask why she had a kid when she was living in a weekly motel and could barely feed herself? Maybe just an accident?
posted by averageamateur at 10:56 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Argh, the smoking derail. Yes smoking is bad for you! But smokers get real pleasure out of it. It wouldn't be addictive if it didn't feel good.

And when you are chronically underslept, physically run down, stressed, and depressed, the fact that you smoke is really the goddamn least of your worries. Quitting would help. So would finding a leprechaun with a pot of gold. Under the stresses she describes, both are equally likely.

And then there's this; in this country, health care for the uninsured is an emergency-only thing; it may save your life, but it will bankrupt you and your family at the same time. You don't have preventative care. Whatever big bad illness or injurty you get is that much more likely to kill or cripple you, and of course your expected lifespan is shorter for that and other reasons related to poverty.

Why the fuck wouldn't you smoke? Your chances of making it to a healthy old age are pretty fucking slim already. Might as well enjoy whatever you can.
posted by emjaybee at 10:56 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cooking doesn't attract roaches, being dirty attracts roaches. The trouble is cleaning is hard, and cooking is dirty until you're practiced enough to clean as you go.

Actually, roaches are just as likely to infest clean houses as poorly kept ones. It's a myth that cockroaches are drawn to poorly kept-homes; the conditions that allow roaches get into a home and establish themselves are independent of cleaning habits.

It's true that when it comes to eliminating an existing roach infestation, cleanliness can really make the crucial difference, but that actually requires keeping house to a higher standard of cleanliness than one would normally expect. Not exactly easy to add "keeping your house even cleaner than ordinarily required" to your list of duties when you're just struggling to get by in the first place, not to mention adding pest control services to the list of your recurring costs.

Little expenses can spiral out of control and become much more costly than they would otherwise at the lower end of the economic spectrum. A stitch in time might save nine, but if you can't afford that one crucial stitch in time, you most certainly aren't going to be able to afford the nine more stitches you might otherwise have been spared.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:58 AM on November 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


“You’ve got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body’s sermon on how to behave.”—Billie Holiday
posted by ottereroticist at 10:58 AM on November 13, 2013 [63 favorites]


you concluded the latter without actually doing the former

Plenty of people suggested that smoking was good for her: One person quoted it was for "moments to call your own", another said it "helps her to go the required distance on very little sleep", someone said it "it also allows you to "relax" by walking out of the office/restaurant/workplace for a few minutes and not talk to anyone or do anything but smoke" someone even said that it "boosts executive function and performance".

Many people are justifying her choices as good choices. My impression is that they're well-rationalized bad choices. Sadly understandable and hopefully surmountable.

I only said that they were the best of my practical range of options.

The "best of the worst rationalization". I think that she'll eventually abandon that one too.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:59 AM on November 13, 2013


She puts "having kids" against "having abortions," which is just nuts. Condoms cost almost nothing.

Sounds nuts to some, but that "Abortion Stories" thread a few days ago was rough reading. There are many, many children alive today because the UPFRONT cost of an abortion was too high ($400, $900, $15,000 for medically-indicated abortions, even.)

Also I don't now if this woman is Black or not -- but the refusal of young Black men to wear condoms is a well-known and well-documented phenomenon, and a part of the reason why adolescent Black women have such high rates of HIV.

TL;DR: A lot of this article sounds 'nuts' if you've never been poor, but MOST of it sounds familiar if you have been, even for a little while.

Is it ignorant to ask why she had a kid when she was living in a weekly motel and could barely feed herself? Maybe just an accident?
posted by averageamateur at 10:56 AM on November 13 [+] [!]


She addresses this in the comments as well. She actually sounds like a great mom.
posted by polly_dactyl at 10:59 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it ignorant to ask why she had a kid when she was living in a weekly motel and could barely feed herself? Maybe just an accident?

Maybe. Also, poverty affects your brain. Makes your decision-making process really difficult and kind of fucked. Please see the PDFs I posted links to above.
posted by rtha at 10:59 AM on November 13, 2013


(oops. here's a cite for my claims above about roaches.)
posted by saulgoodman at 10:59 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


""poor people need junk food to feel good", when in fact, they'd probably be happier with better food were it available to them"

I agree with you evil otto, but if you define junk food as "cheap and easy food with plenty of fat and salt and carbs" that is pretty much limited to unhealthy food.

If poor people could afford to drive through healthy restaurants with filling, seasoned food, with salt and healthy fats in it, that would probably be much better--- but when you're exhausted from being on your feet all day you want a tv dinner or takeout.

I will also add, I still don't feel as good as I did when I smoked and it's been many years.

So I highly doubt that for many people with intense trauma and the level of crisis many poor people cope with daily that quitting smoking would help to the degree a lot of people imagine.

ALRIGHT FINE I will post the links between executive function and trauma/poverty and nicotine.
posted by xarnop at 11:01 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes smoking is bad for you! But smokers get real pleasure out of it. It wouldn't be addictive if it didn't feel good.

Read The Easy Way To Stop Smoking. It's actually the book that helped me quit. The only pleasure the average smoker derives from a cigarette is the momentary relief from withdrawal symptoms. Allen Carr likens it to wearing tight shoes all day so you can feel relief when you untie them.
posted by evil otto at 11:01 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


esprit de l'escalier: ", I think it's unfortunate that people are suggesting that smoking is actually a good idea for her."

First you look down your nose at her, then you mis-interpret our response to your inanity. Unless you've got a time machine to help her not get on the smoking->stress->smoking merry-go-round in the first place--in which case hey, awesome--you really ought to examine your privilege.

Smoking is terrible. Before I started smoking, I knew it was terrible. WHen I smoked, I knew it was terrible. I now know it's terrible. But I would NEVER FUCKING PRESUME to judge someone and their own struggle with smoking.

Congrats, Casey Jones, on this epic derail.
posted by notsnot at 11:01 AM on November 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


Is it ignorant to ask why she had a kid when she was living in a weekly motel and could barely feed herself? Maybe just an accident?

Maybe she got pregnant accidentally and doesn't believe in abortion. Maybe she'd always wanted a kid and an accidental pregnancy was an opportunity that she might not have had otherwise. Maybe she got pregnant and lost her job shortly thereafter, followed by her apartment. Maybe her partner became abusive when she was pregnant, and she left him, but had limited funds. Maybe she was living with a friend, and the friend kicked her out.

There are any number of reasons that one could find themselves pregnant and living in a weekly motel. Some of them may be more socially acceptable or more sympathetic than others. When you're already living near the edge, though, it doesn't take much to push you over.
posted by MeghanC at 11:02 AM on November 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


Rich people make a lot of the same choices and some of them with just as dire consequences except those choices are valorized and celebrated. When you see the big name action stars like Stallone, Schwarzenegger and such smoking their illegal cuban cigars they are viewed as ideals. When wealthier Chicagoans drop into the Girl and the Goat and eat the pig face it is not eating junk food even though it is an almost pure fat sausage on french fries with a fried egg on top and fatty sauce on the dish. It's called being a foodie or a gourmand.

It goes on and on. The ostensible vices of the poor are magically transformed into virtues when engaged in by the rich.
posted by srboisvert at 11:02 AM on November 13, 2013 [76 favorites]


This thread is making me want to take up smoking, which I will cut off my hands before I do, so where can I find a nice topical nicotine cream instead?
posted by nicebookrack at 11:03 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


The rich have far more resources for recovering from poor choices and decisions than do the poor.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:06 AM on November 13, 2013 [15 favorites]


The patriot act requires that banks verify who you are with valid ID (costs something and is a PITA to get.)

For added fun, Pennsylvania only accepts payment (which is currently $13.50, but free if you need it to vote) "by check or money order," but good luck paying by check if you want the card in order to open a checking account. Cash or credit cards aren't accepted, and -- for even more fun -- the fee is listed incorrectly on several parts of the State's website as only costing $10. Hopefully you found the current and correct form before you went to the DMV the first time, because you can't easily make up the $3.50 difference once you're there.

It's incredibly sad that obtaining valid government-issued ID -- ID that is required by the government for some things, like opening a bank account -- is a good example of how something that's not particularly onerous when you have money can become a hassle when you don't.
posted by cjelli at 11:07 AM on November 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


First you look down your nose at her, then you mis-interpret our response to your inanity.

I certainly never "looked down my nose at her". I repeatedly said or implied that they were "well-rationalized bad choices. Sadly understandable and hopefully surmountable." I also quoted many people who did suggest that her choices were good choices for her. They may be right, but that's not my impression.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:07 AM on November 13, 2013


Incidentally (to try to get off the arguing for a stint), thanks to everyone in this thread who has shared or might share personal stories on living poor. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I come at things like this from a position of relatively vast privilege and good class circumstance; my only defense against the obliviousness and passive cruelty that my privilege instills is to practice empathy before judgment always, especially when others take the brave and vulnerable step of discussing their personal hell. Stories like hers and yours are tremendously moving. Thank you, again.
posted by Kybard at 11:08 AM on November 13, 2013 [14 favorites]


Someone should write from the perspective of how easy it is to make the "right" decisions when things are already set up in your favor.
posted by fraxil at 11:09 AM on November 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


The only pleasure the average smoker derives from a cigarette is the momentary relief from withdrawal symptoms.

OK, smoking is obviously fucking bad. But you are ignoring the depression aspect-- it will legitimately assuage your depression (temporarily, for the next hour or two) like nothing else will when you can't afford a psychiatrist/doctor's visit/prescription antidepressant.

I smoked a lot during college when I had bad depression and needed to be alert 15-18 hours a day. It undeniably helped. I don't smoke anymore and when I get tired at the end of the day, I'm fuckin' tired-- if I drink coffee it makes me an anxious wreck. There's no clear continuum of tea --> coffee --> cigarettes where tea is on the gently, healthy and and cigarettes are on the bad end. Those three things do entirely different things for me and I have tried them all in various attempts to make my body and mind healthier.

So yeah, nicotine sucks, but if you can't afford your meds it is really a miracle drug.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:09 AM on November 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Speaking of "bad decisions people make while poor" that make other people sad for some reason, I have a family member who pops painkillers like he really really shouldn't, but what the fuck am I going to say? "You shouldn't take those painkillers, I know you work 10 hours days doing physical labor and every part of you aches but if you went off them you'd feel better! Try coffee! Try a warm bath!" That shit is better but it doesn't do the same thing, which is to allow a person to live in their body without pain. I have told him many times to knock the painkillers because I don't want to seem him addicted or dead, but it makes complete sense that he takes them. Why live if you can hardly bear to be in your own body?

Similarly with smoking and depression, why live if you can barely get out of bed or keep a job or make enough money to help your family or feed yourself?
posted by stoneandstar at 11:12 AM on November 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, I think we can empathize with this woman without pretending her bad decisions are actually good decisions.

Which I at no point actually did, so thanks for putting those words in my mouth. My point was that the essay wasn't contrived to justify smoking and eating junk food, which was a response to this comment by esprit de l'escalier:

She is articulate, which makes for a great article, but unfortunately has allowed her to contrive some convincing justifications for smoking and junk food.

I never said that smoking or junk food were good ideas, but rather that they weren't without justification given the context -- that there's a reason the poor (not to mention many others) smoke and eat junk food, and furthermore that the reason isn't "because poor people make bad decisions."

Sure, a Big Mac tastes good, but a fillet mignon from a nice steakhouse tastes better

Both of which are equally available to the poor!
posted by axiom at 11:14 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


And re: abortion vs. pregnancy and the opportunity costs thereof, if I wanted an abortion right now, it would cost hundreds of dollars that neither me nor my boyfriend currently have. If Planned Parenthood or whoever would step in and pay for it, great. (In this state, I'm pretty sure they won't, though in my home state they are well funded and would.) If I wanted to have a baby, I would be instantly put on Medicaid, and have nearly comprehensive health insurance!! Better health insurance than I would even get from a good job! I could have DENTAL WORK done! I could take good care of my body and my baby at least for that limited amount of time, and hope to hell that by the time I was going to give birth things were maybe a little more stable in my life. Maybe that wouldn't happen. But if I wanted a baby in the first place, yeah, I would probably have the baby. For most poor people there is never a "good time" to have a baby. And I grew up poor with lots of disadvantages but I was always happy.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:15 AM on November 13, 2013 [14 favorites]


So it's a little disingenuous to say that "poor people need junk food to feel good", when in fact, they'd probably be happier with better food were it available to them.

I seriously, seriously doubt anyone in this thread would deny this. The thing is, the people who disagree with you are doing so in the name of reality.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:16 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I watch how my wealthy friends navigate in the world and it is just so fucking foreign to me -- they can literally afford to make their lives easier.

This. I'm culturally and economically middle class, maybe upper middle. I work with and interact with lots of people who aren't. There are countless ways I use my cultural and financial capital to make my life easier that (unfairly and wrongly) aren't available to less well off people.

If my car is becoming unreliable, I can simply get it repaired (with low cost credit options if I don't have the cash today) or simply buy a new one because my monthly budget can easily absorb a $400+ car payment.

That gets multiplied across every aspect of life that she describes, including leisure (paid time off!), eating, access to good quality doctors rather than self medication, and on and on.

It's not because I have better willpower or am a better person. It's because I have more money and can therefore make different choices and have easier opportunities.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:19 AM on November 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


You know, another thing about addiction is that as long as you can afford/get ahold of the thing you're addicted to, it makes you want to be alive. A little bit. To get your next fix. That's why you look forward to the next smoke break or the next cup of coffee, instead of wishing you could go home and fucking die on the floor because why the hell are you even living this hellish broken down hamster-wheel existence.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:19 AM on November 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


These days, why not e-cigarettes? Due to taxes they're often cheaper, and they may be healthier.
posted by kavasa at 11:22 AM on November 13, 2013


OK, smoking is obviously fucking bad. But you are ignoring the depression aspect-- it will legitimately assuage your depression (temporarily, for the next hour or two) like nothing else will when you can't afford a psychiatrist/doctor's visit/prescription antidepressant.

If this is your experience, I can't rightfully say "your experience is wrong". However, I ask that you at least consider a different interpretation of your experience. Yes, you may have been depressed, but is it possible that your depression felt more acute when you were jonesing for a cigarette? Smoking a cigarette may have given you some temporary relief, but is it possible you would have been, on the whole, less depressed were you not a smoker to begin with?
posted by evil otto at 11:24 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]



Actually it does more than that. . Here "Our preliminary results indicate a better performance by smokers in verbal memory and working memory domains than by nonsmokers, suggesting that a cognitive enhancement may be associated with nicotine use in depressed patients with MDD or bipolar disorder."
posted by xarnop at 11:26 AM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


If this is your experience, I can't rightfully say "your experience is wrong". However, I ask that you at least consider a different interpretation of your experience. Yes, you may have been depressed, but is it possible that your depression felt more acute when you were jonesing for a cigarette? Smoking a cigarette may have given you some temporary relief, but is it possible you would have been, on the whole, less depressed were you not a smoker to begin with?

No. It's possible I may have felt the depression less acutely, but in my constant fog of depression, I wouldn't have woken up in the morning, I would have lost my job, and I wouldn't have gotten my schoolwork done. (These things had already started happening.) Once I started smoking, sure, I felt shitty when I didn't have a cigarette, but once I did, shit got done. I woke up in the morning. I went to work. I wrote papers. I went to bed at a normal time. Life still sucked but it wasn't falling down around my ears.

I know there is this wisdom about how smoking makes you feel shitty so you need the cigarette to feel normal, and I know what you mean, but I don't think it applies to depression to the extent that would make it useful.

I know, no one wants to say "there's no better choice here, it's live without meds or kill yourself with cancer," but poverty is real and creates real dilemmas. That's why people die of it. The cure is money or else free food and health insurance.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:28 AM on November 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I really identify with what xarnop wrote. I wrote fucking amazing papers when I was a smoker. I wrote poetry that won prizes. Now I can barely eke out a creative thought, tbh.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:29 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Smoking fucking rules. \m/
posted by stoneandstar at 11:30 AM on November 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


Or this
"We discuss the reciprocal relation of the beneficial effects of nicotine, improving attention in smokers and in patients with neuropsychiatric diseases, such as schizophrenia and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, vs. nicotine-related attention deficits already caused during adolescence."
posted by xarnop at 11:30 AM on November 13, 2013


I can't easily search on my phone, but there was research recently on the use of nicotine as self medication, by schizophrenics maybe?

Based on my observations, I'd call smoking a signifier of poverty, rather than a cause.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:31 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously though, I get how tempting it is to tie things up in a nice neat box and say "you think smoking help you, but it actually makes things worse," "you think junk food helps you, but it actually makes things worse." It's very morally tidy and self-helpy. But the reality is that we don't just have a body, we have mental life and a personal life-- we have human dignity. That dignity can be eroded and it's very difficult to live without. It's hard to be a zen master on a juice fast when you feel like your life is a meaningless, grinding slog of no health care and exhaustion from which you will never escape, or when you have a mental illness you can't afford to treat, or when you want to eat something that will give you pleasure but you can't afford duck-fat fries and garlic aioli. It is not good in the long-term but neither is living without any sense of meaning whatsoever. People actually die of that too.

Also, there are people who smoke who don't like it and want to quit, but yeah, it's super fucking hard when you're trapped. My mom has been a smoker since she was about 15, and she recently quit because she got family medical leave from her job (at Wal-Mart) to stay with her brother in a different city while he was being treated for cancer and got free food and housing from the hospital that was treating him. It was much easier when her life wasn't insane and she literally lived in a hospital facility, she has said. (Not to mention the change of scenery.) (PS: The uncle with cancer was not a smoker.)
posted by stoneandstar at 11:38 AM on November 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


Also have to add -- if people with all the advantages in the world of education, fortune, family, etc., cannot behave themselves any better than say, Bill Bennett or Larry Craig or Newt Gingrich, than how on EARTH can we expect those without advantages to be consistently wise and saintly? It's the crudest and most ignorant form of hypocrisy that exists.

I'm increasingly of the belief that people like Bennett, etc believe the things they do about the poor because of a misfiring self-defense mechanism. Basically, they fear becoming poor themselves and reassure themselves that that would never happen because they aren't immoral like the poor are, they're not lazy like the poor are, etc. To believe that the poor are just as (or maybe more) moral or hard working as they are is to believe that poverty could happen to them, or that maybe the grim randomness of the universe just happened to work in their favor.

The truth, of course, is that there is no rational order to things, that any one of us is one disaster away from death or financial ruin or loss of everything and everyone we love, that its possible to be not just born on third base but born a foot from home plate with no catcher anywhere in sight, that you'll be born into poverty so horrifying that it makes this article seem like a dream of the best possible world, and that there are things you are so ignorant about that you won't ever even know you are ignorant about them.

Every human being has their own shit going on for their own reasons and at some very basic level none of us can ever fully understand each other. "Why doesn't she just..." doesn't actually work when you're talking about somebody from your own class level and its ludicrous to think that it might work with somebody whose experience is so different from your own that you might as well be the obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey ("why doesn't she just stand in the middle of the moon and emit pulses towards Jupiter?").

Anyhow, among the many tragedies of being Gingrich (besides just having to be Gingrich) is that there are certain basic things that he will never be able to understand because his much self-vaunted intellect stopped developing once he decided he already knew everything. If he was capable of stepping back and saying "whoa, I really need to try to come to a deeper understanding of why poverty happens and the effects that it has on the people suffering it before I propose policy to deal with it" he would no longer be Gingrich.

Sorry, ranting. Gingrich, Bennet and Craig should be forced to read this article until they achieve enlightenment - which is to say forever.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:41 AM on November 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


This was a really thoughtful article about the ways being poor skews the way that you perceive literally everything in your life, from financial decisions to your self worth. To engage with it solely as a launchpad for a discussion about smoking seems, to me, to be a disservice to everyone involved.

The bit that killed me was the part about looking for a connection, and taking what you could get from other people, even though you knew it wouldn't last. It's one of those things that's so obvious, but that you don't notice until it's pointed out. When society thinks you're worthless and treats you like crap, it's so tempting and easy to just take what you can from someone who's treating you well, even if you know it's only for a couple hours, or because they're interested in getting something from you. That tiny bit of human dignity, of being treated like a person with value and worth, is so tempting--and so frequently elusive.
posted by MeghanC at 11:46 AM on November 13, 2013 [18 favorites]


I can remember being so poor I had to sell my plasma to buy coffee and cigarettes. It was worth it. Somehow, this choice totally failed to kill my bootstraps, which were strengthened by a bit of privilege, but still needed years of heavy lifting. Of all the vices I've tried over the years, I much prefer nicotine to judgmentalism. Second-hand judgmentalism is the more dangerous of the two, IMNSHO.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:58 AM on November 13, 2013 [24 favorites]


She must not smoke all that much. I quite smoking way back in 2000, when I was a graduate student. Big reason: I couldn't afford them. Then they also made me sick. But I smoked a a pack a day. Even a pack of generics or Dorals or whatever was too much. (This was in the Deep South too, so we're not talking high tax territory, although taxes on cigarettes had increased rapidly at the time.) I read that she was paying $45 a month? That's nothing for cigarettes of any kind. Bar/social smokers who buy on the cheap probably pay around that much a month.

Cigarettes were most decidedly not stress relievers either, not after a time--and certainly not when I was smoking all the time. (And I'd smoked for over a decade before, in journalism and other work, none of which was particularly high paying).
posted by raysmj at 12:05 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


stoneandstar: Nicotene's only proven benefit is that it helps people focus. It's really good for finishing writing and critical work. So of course it worked for you when writing papers (which had nothing to do with depression or anything remotely like that).
posted by raysmj at 12:07 PM on November 13, 2013


What's incredibly disheartening is this attitude about how we know so much better than others what's good for them, is the thing that's making it even harder for people. If you think the poor don't need to smoke, then go ahead and price cigarettes at ten dollars a pack. It'll discourage them. It's good for them. And meanwhile it just makes people even more poor.
posted by corb at 12:08 PM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


This could have been best smoking article I've read in a long time. Too bad she had to cloud the issue with all that extraneous stuff about poverty and whatnot.
posted by Floydd at 12:09 PM on November 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


So yeah, nicotine sucks, but if you can't afford your meds it is really a miracle drug.

As Dip Flash (heh) just mentioned, in addition to being a stimulant, nicotine also seems to have some antipsychotic properties itself and even reduces the side effects of traditional antipsychotics (which are some fucked up shit and a major reason so many schizophrenics go off medication).

And raysmj, stimulants can definitely be profoundly helpful for depressed people (even Adderall is sometimes prescribed for major, recalcitrant depression).
posted by en forme de poire at 12:10 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was writing more about specific note he how it helped him write papers. Nicotine helps with that. And yeah, we know poor people are more likely to smoke (although I've read that smoking stats in that area are skewed by higher rates among young people generally--haven't read studies where all that is teased out, since I don't read epidemiology studies for a living, say).
posted by raysmj at 12:13 PM on November 13, 2013


It's incredibly sad that obtaining valid government-issued ID -- ID that is required by the government for some things, like opening a bank account -- is a good example of how something that's not particularly onerous when you have money can become a hassle when you don't.

I'm a well-off immigrant and I can't even rent a movie from local video stores because I don't have state issued ID. I just looked at the person behind the counter laughed and walked out. Even Game of Thrones isn't worth the hassle of getting Illinois ID.
posted by srboisvert at 12:15 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Blaming people for their life choices is a time-worn tactic to frame poverty as a personal failing ---she's poor becuse she eats terribly, she smokes, she's careless with birth control, and anyways she's just be lining up for an abortion if she only could.

Blaming the poor avoids having to talk about many of the realy problems the poor actually have. Why can't she get a bank account, why is health care apportioned so unevenly and her incentives so perverse? Why is minimum wage set so low?

This is red meat to the Tea Party.
posted by bonehead at 12:17 PM on November 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


I smoked for a decade because I have Tourette Syndrome and nicotine is proven to lessen severity of tics. For me, the choice was less about economics than side effects (a fourteen year old girl is not that concerned about dying in middle age, and I'd rather cough up phlegm than throw up everything I ate or lose control of the muscles in my hands or fall asleep immediately after taking my antipsychotics). However, cigarettes are way cheaper than health insurance, monthly appointments with a neurologist, and prescription co-pays. I can see where people with other mental health issues would make the same choice.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:17 PM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


as a postscript, electronic cigarettes are probably safer but it's not clear how much safer. In theory they have the potential to be as safe as gums or patches but there's no regulation and manufacturers are not very transparent so quality control is all over the map right now.

ray, I think stoneandstar had other reasons for saying that it helped fight depression other than just finishing papers, e.g., "Similarly with smoking and depression, why live if you can barely get out of bed or keep a job or make enough money to help your family or feed yourself?" (also just fyi stoneandstar is a woman)
posted by en forme de poire at 12:18 PM on November 13, 2013


This piece dovetails really nicely with a new law in Switzerland I just read about where the government will provide a basic living income to every citizen regardless of income or circumstance.

"Every month, every Swiss person would receive a check from the government, no matter how rich or poor, how hardworking or lazy, how old or young. Poverty would disappear."

The article goes on to cite some evidence for how improved society is without grinding poverty:

"In the mid-1970s, the tiny Canadian town of Dauphin ( the “garden capital of Manitoba” ) acted as guinea pig for a grand experiment in social policy called “Mincome.” For a short period of time, all the residents of the town received a guaranteed minimum income. About 1,000 poor families got monthly checks to supplement their earnings.

Evelyn Forget, a health economist at the University of Manitoba, has done some of the best research on the results. Some of her findings were obvious: Poverty disappeared. But others were more surprising: High-school completion rates went up; hospitalization rates went down. "

posted by forkisbetter at 12:19 PM on November 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


Something to remember here is that, when you're poor, not only are there fewer options, these options also tend to take more out of you. So, it's an option to take three busses to get to that free clinic, but that can take more than two hours, meaning you don't get paid or can't go grocery shopping or whatever. Oh wait, you probably couldn't go grocery shopping anyway, because you need to take 2 busses to get to the nearest supermarket. It's an option to use a bank instead of the check-cashing place, but you're living hand-to-mouth and will be pecked to death with low-balance and ATM fees, etc.

So there are options, there are choices, but the 'good' choice so often are untenable when you don't have access to transportation, healthcare, time off, etc.

Oh, and FWIW many people with undiagnosed or untreated bipolar disorder also self-medicate with nicotine.
posted by Mister_A at 12:21 PM on November 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


forkisbetter: "This piece dovetails really nicely with a new law in Switzerland I just read about where the government will provide a basic living income to every citizen regardless of income or circumstance.

...High-school completion rates went up; hospitalization rates went down. "


Was there any change in the incidence of being an intolerably judgmental killjoy prig?
posted by Mister_A at 12:26 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


wow! Powerful article. Lesson: Poverty is a disease: a cultural disease (societies all over the world permit poverty) and a psycho-physical disease (it puts one in a state of mind where sheer survival is the only thing that matters, leaving one open to all kinds of harmful habits and self-perceptions).

I'm not poor but have known many poor people. Why are some people poor and other people rich? I know it's naive to say this - maybe even naive to ask the question - but it's just not fair. And, on saying this to oneself one is reminded of the meme - constructed over some time - that "life is not fair", and that that is such a maddening meme. Like that's all there is to it - "life is not fair"? We struggle to give deeper meaning to this unfairness; we look for ways out, to rationalize it.That said, somehow this woman seems to have found a way through her writing - reflecting on her coping skills - to give herself some hope. In that, she has some new found wealth.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:27 PM on November 13, 2013


Also from the comments section:

Here is how I became okay with being pregnant: there was no way I could be more fucked than I already was. Poverty is not a comfortable life, but it can be a good one. My kids will be as educated as I can make them, and with the internet anything is accessible to them. They might not have my attention lavished on them as much as I'd wish, but I don't think that's bad if they know they're loved. So they won't have the coolest things. They will have a forest room instead made from branches I found and dollar store flowers. They'll have imaginations. I don't mind that. They could grow up in worse circumstances. Rich people pay a lot of money for people to build forest rooms with branches they found in the yard. Rhinestones are as cool as diamonds to a kid.

I think the way we survive is by refusing to not live. There is nothing more they can take away from us. What are they going to do, judge us openly? And they think it matters to us whether it's over this or that this week? And the they is so vague, I don't even know why we bother. Fuck 'em.


Emphasis added. I like this woman. Even if she smokes 4 or more cigarettes per day, FFS. So many people are missing the point.
posted by polly_dactyl at 12:36 PM on November 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


Damn, man, this is me while smoking:

I smoke. It's expensive. It's also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It's a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding
posted by angrycat at 12:39 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think we'll ever go back to the moon without cigarettes and diet pills.
posted by mikelieman at 12:47 PM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I know that was tongue in cheek but a lot of serious people attribute the major scientific advances of the 1920s and 30s to the fact that everyone was on speed.
posted by miyabo at 12:49 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like what this author has to say, but am I the only one who feels a little grated on by the "us vs. them" rhetoric that seems to run through everything?

"There is nothing more they can take away from us."

Who is "they"? I am not poor, but I have never taken anything from her (nor, to my knowledge, have I supported policies that would result in her losing anything).
posted by sparklemotion at 12:50 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you've never taken anything away from her, then why do you feel like it's you she's accusing?
posted by rtha at 12:57 PM on November 13, 2013 [25 favorites]


Who is "they"?

When you're part of a marginalized class, us vs. them is what your life feels like--even as you acknowledge that "them" isn't necessarily everyone not like you. It's not about any individual "them", it's about the class of people whose existence defines your marginalization.

"I am not poor, but I have never taken anything from her" is basically the class version of "not all white people are like that" and the equivalent. No one's questioning that you're a good person, but you still undeniably benefit from being part of the class of not-poor.
posted by MeghanC at 1:00 PM on November 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


I know she's not accusing me. That's why I want to know who "they" are.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:01 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Freemasons. Who is giving away perfectly good masons? How are union masons supposed to compete? Down with corporate welfare for masonry!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:06 PM on November 13, 2013 [14 favorites]


Speaking as an Elk in good standing, it pisses me off when the Freemasons get all the press.
posted by Floydd at 1:13 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's what happens when Freemasons control the media.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:15 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Part of being poor is the unmistakable, though nebulous, presence of them.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:15 PM on November 13, 2013


Part of being poor is the unmistakable, though nebulous, presence of them.

Freemasons?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:17 PM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Jesus Puffing Christ! Those stupid poorz, they have no common sense at all. The only reason they're where they are is because of their shitty choices and smoking habits.

Of course, the sons-of-bitches that MAKE the cigarettes and make sure they're as addictive as possible as well as promoting them as the absolute cool social grown-up thing to do are well respected by all for the money they make on the back of the addicted and the poor.

Smoking sucks. So does being a judgmental asshole. It's amazing that people who have never worn those shoes can magically know how to fix someone's life. You pick one damn thing to focus on--their nicotine habit, their reproductive choice, their food selection, and what you don't seem to grock is that it isn't just one overwhelming thing, it's ALL of it together, everyday, from the day they were born to the day they die, that's gonna beat them down. Live it, then put your money where your mouth is.

This woman? She walks uphill with a weight everyday. I respect her.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:18 PM on November 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm not (or at least no longer) poor but the feeling of they that I think the writer speaks about is never going to go away.

They are the people who make the Medicare system incomprehensible and issued you a rejection because you forgot to initial form 7B. They are the people who won't let you deposit a check because whoever cut you the check made a typo. They are the people who make you wait in line to correct a mistake they made. They are the people who won't pick up the phone when you call the bank to figure out what this mystery charge is because now you're overdrawn and owe the bank more money than you have.

"They" are the ones who get cut the breaks, and who cut each other the breaks you can't have. "They" is just the personification of the system, and the people who comprise the system -- many of whom are just doing their damn jobs because they'll get canned if they cash your check with a typo on it or let an application with an incomplete form 7B through -- that is stacked against you at all times. It's everyone and everything that comprises the terrifying network that keeps you down despite your best efforts.
posted by griphus at 1:22 PM on November 13, 2013 [39 favorites]


I guess those of us who are ex-poors don't know anything. Especially not what it took for us to become ex-poors, and what helped us when people around us were failing.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:23 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Condoms cost almost nothing.

The effectiveness rate of condoms with perfect use (used every time there is penetration, always worn correctly, etc.) is 98%. (I.e. of women who regularly rely on condoms only as a birth-control method, and always use them correctly, 2% will get pregnant.) The effectiveness rate with typical use is only 82%.
posted by BrashTech at 1:26 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you honestly believe that smoking, or eating junk food, or having lots of children, or any other life choice makes the poor in some way deserving of their situation, you must also believe that wealthy people who behave the same should be made poor.
posted by Trace McJoy at 1:34 PM on November 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


We all want to believe that our choices have some effect on our outcomes. That we got where we are because we made good decisions in the past.

The possibility that it's all random is too scary to contemplate.
posted by miyabo at 1:36 PM on November 13, 2013 [14 favorites]


Also I quit smoking habitually only when I could finally afford to do so. And it wasn't just affording money for books or smoking cessation aids, it was being able to afford to be a goddamn son of a bitch because that is what nicotine withdrawal turns you into. I could afford to quit smoking because I had a job where I didn't have to be totally ultra-super nice to everyone I met or risk getting canned for having a 'tude. I could actually take a particularly shitty, super-jonesy morning off work without feeling reprisal. I could afford to fucking eat food because the appetite suppression that comes from nicotine (which is really useful when you're piss broke and five bucks worth of smokes buys you better time than five bucks worth of food ever could) wears off and suddenly you are ravenous and yet nothing you eat will fill that void that opened the morning after you smoked what is hopefully your last cigarette.

Sometimes I feel like people allow themselves to get hella righteous over smoking because it is an Objectively Bad Habit and therefore people who are smoking are either a) willfully self-destructive and need to be corrected or b) willfully ignorant and therefore need to be corrected. I will let everyone in on a little secret: it's fucking neither.
posted by griphus at 1:36 PM on November 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


BrashTech: There are also other methods. The morning-after pill is available OTC in most places for condom failures. If she can get to PP even once they can give her shots and other long-term options. They take Medicaid.

And no, life choices don't make people deserve to be poor, because economics isn't about deserts. Instead, they can make people more likely to be poor. Having two kids when you're living hand to mouth makes you more likely to remain poor. Smoking when you have inadequate health care and little money makes you more likely to remain poor. I have nothing against her; but the disconnection of bad choices from bad outcomes is ludicrous.

Two kids is the difference between a young couple struggling on the edge of society and two young people living a bohemian lifestyle.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:38 PM on November 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's a whole lot cool going on in tobacco, including weak MAOI activity. MAOIs are old-school antidepressants (a lot less safe than modern ones). David Foster Wallace took phenelzine for years and it kept him alive but he had terrible side effects and when he went off it he ended up committing suicide soon after. That's just one of the neat things going on in cigarettes. The are still addictive and deadly. Some people may feel the risks are worth the benefits, and they may have some particularly interesting benefits in certain cases (schizophrenia), but deadly nonetheless. One of the most pernicious aspects of addiction is the way it hijacks decision-making ability at the highest cognitive levels. Any cognitive bias easily available and in support of the next smoke is retained (it's the best part of my day, gives me energy, need a break), while arguments in opposition barely register in consciousness. For those sensitive to paternalism in discussing regulation, consider what it's like to have an addictive substance making your decisions for you, and then using your own thoughts and words to defend your continued addiction.
posted by fraxil at 1:38 PM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


The possibility that it's all random is too scary to contemplate.

Lots of stuff is random. The things that aren't, we should control as much as we can to stack the deck in our favor.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:39 PM on November 13, 2013


Lots of stuff is random. The things that aren't, we should control as much as we can to stack the deck in our favor.

The whole point is that poverty makes your brain not work like the brains of people not in poverty. It fucks with your decision-making. It fucks with your willpower. If you can *just* get it together enough to keep food on the table on clothes on your kids, that is as goddamn stacked as you can make the deck.
posted by rtha at 1:42 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Junk food is not particularly tasty. Sure, a Big Mac tastes good, but a fillet mignon from a nice steakhouse tastes better.

Plenty of people who can afford to eat better get Big Macs. You may not think junk food is particularly tasty, but not everyone agrees with you.

Seriously, I still eat plenty of junk food and spent most of my adult life smoking and I've never been below upper-middle-class.

People are probably more likely to eat junk food (because its cheap) when they have less money, but they also might be eating it because it can taste pretty good.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:42 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lots of stuff is random. The things that aren't, we should control as much as we can to stack the deck in our favor.

Are we morally responsible for failing to do so, if we fail to do so?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:43 PM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Who is "they"? I am not poor

Ahahahahahaha.
It took me a moment to wrap my head around the idea of no 'they'. Of course there is a they. I'm not that poor. But I grew up that way. And... I am invisible now, in a way that I wasn't then. I'm now the invisible because I am part of the crowd. Then, there was often the invisible of being deliberately ignored. 'They' is bureaucracy. Because everything you do involves multiple steps, and begging favour from your superiors. 'They' are the people on the street who are visibly judging you for your clothes, your mothers clothes, running late, the area that you live. There is a pecking order to humans, and you won't notice it often until you are at the bottom. You notice when people don't give way to you on the sidewalk (males in suits get priority), or when people expect a group of poorer people walking to give way to a single walker, whereas they don't get offended when it's a wealthy group of people they skirt around instead (seriously, look at who is being 'rude').
They is the economic decisions of a country being made to screw you over.
They is all the people on the internet judging the choices that this woman is carefully laying out.

My mother had people anonymously dob her in to social services about 4 times over just a few years, for working while getting unemployment assistance.
The government worker told her, because thing is, she wasn't, of course, and she always declares any income she got correctly, absolutely nothing under the table, because she didn't have that luxury.
She's a kind, lovely woman, and yet, because she's in jobs that barely pay the minimum wage, in shifts, seasonally, jobs that give her repetitive stress injury, or in nursing homes where she cleans up shit, lifts people between beds, and is the one to sit with people as they die, for such absolutely crap wages, she deals with so much more awfulness from... absolutely everyone. Conditions in crap paying jobs are so much harder and worse than white collar, semi or nearly middle class jobs. :P


Anyway, us vs them, that's not the way I think. That way leads paranoia (I think it's contributory to mental illness in the poor when it really does feel like everyone is out to get you). I have mostly 'made it'. But it still took me a moment to try and grasp that someone might have no concept of the 'They'.
posted by Elysum at 1:44 PM on November 13, 2013 [18 favorites]


> I know she's not accusing me. That's why I want to know who "they" are.

Then, I guess my question is really why you feel "grated" on by the rhetoric, and why you felt the need to explicitly say you'd never taken anything from her - if you're not "them" then....okay? And if you are, in some way, "them" - well, that can be uncomfortable. But it also doesn't negate the points she makes in her essay. In any case, it's not about you personally. I'm pretty sure I'm (now) in her "them" category, but I know this isn't a salvo fired at me personally.
posted by rtha at 1:47 PM on November 13, 2013


I started to write a long and what I though was thoughtful response. But for me, what it boils down to is the poor often behave rationally and stay poor(er), the middle class usually behave rationally and stay middle class and the rich also behave rationally and stay rich. Each with their own life experiences tend to become more of what they are or stay the same. Clearly much of U.S. public policy has made upward mobility between the "classes" more difficult but this is largely true in all modern economies that have large diverse populations and an industrial/service base. What I do find problematic is some of the posts (not the article) that belittle or express outrage to those who suggest the behaviors of the poor should be left unchallenged but have no problem expressing their outrage at the behavior of the rich. If one is a product of their own history (genetic/learned/environmental) which I think is true then we all are a similar product. Railing against the middle class and the rich is no more useful than decrying and shaming the poor. I am an inveterate believer that wealth should be thoughtfully and consistently be redistributed to the professional/middle/working class, that there should be a living wage and universal healthcare should be policy. But I also believe that alcohol/drug abuse, early/unwanted/multiple pregnancies, low expectations and other short term (though rational) counterproductive behaviors that reinforce poverty should be challenged.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:49 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


The things that aren't, we should control as much as we can to stack the deck in our favor.

I can't find it, but someone on MeFi a while ago wrote a comment about how fucking hard life is when you're always hustling.

I was raised to hustle. We were from Russia where if you didn't hustle, you starved. I would wait in the car while my mother would knock on the back door of the bakery late at night and someone would pass her a warm loaf of bread and she stuck cash into their hand. That's how you got bread.

Everyone non-social conversation I'm in, I'm looking for angles and I'm covering my bases. No one gets to take advantage of me, because if that happens my brain is convinced I will starve to death. I save a lot of money, I used it to climb out of the wreckage like many people of my background, but it sucks. I can't talk to many people from my background because they never turn the hustle off. I had to make a promise to myself, a long time ago, that I'd stop being anywhere around shady deals.

When you spend your whole life stacking the deck, you don't get to live very much.
posted by griphus at 1:49 PM on November 13, 2013 [27 favorites]


I guess those of us who are ex-poors don't know anything. Especially not what it took for us to become ex-poors, and what helped us when people around us were failing.

As an ex-poor, I do know the hard work and sacrifice that helped me down the path. So I understand how easy it is to feel as though that hard work and sacrifice is the meaningful part of the equation. The trick is to understand that I didn't create that path, or deserve that path more than anyone else, and then to remember that everyone has access to different paths, and that many, many, many people work harder than I did and sacrifice more than I did, and yet their paths will never lead to the relative comfort that mine did. That is luck and privilege. The worst part (for me) about being an atheist is that I know I have been blessed by circumstance, but I have no one to really thank. So I settle for trying not to be too self-satisfied.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:49 PM on November 13, 2013 [31 favorites]


Are we morally responsible for failing to do so, if we fail to do so?

Yes. That does not mean that you are totally responsible for your situation, but making bad decisions is still making bad decisions, and you don't get a pass for bad decisions because you're poor. If anything, the drive to make good decisions should be higher, because bad decisions are catastrophes.

The whole point is that poverty makes your brain not work like the brains of people not in poverty. It fucks with your decision-making. It fucks with your willpower. If you can *just* get it together enough to keep food on the table on clothes on your kids, that is as goddamn stacked as you can make the deck.

I don't buy this at all. I grew up poor. Very, very poor. My dad was literally a sharecropper, until he went to work in the mills. I stood in line as a child for food stamps. I was one of the kids they would take to the clothes bank as a "field trip" in elementary school (humiliation, anyone?).

I saw people make good decisions. Most of those people, although not necessarily well-off, are doing okay now; they are middle class or comfortably working class. They are not living hand-to-mouth.

I also saw people make bad decisions. Many of these people are now in jail, in horrible life situations, or dead. None of them are middle class. At most, they have reached working class after a long period of struggle (during which they learned to make good decisions).
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:49 PM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't buy this at all.

Just please look at the pdfs I linked in my first comment. This is not some bleeding-heart-let-them-off-the-hook woo. You can continue to not buy whatever you want, but it'll have to be for your own reasons - among them the fact that what you and your family did worked, but just like losing weight, different people are different, and this too:

> many, many, many people work harder than I did and sacrifice more than I did, and yet their paths will never lead to the relative comfort that mine did
posted by rtha at 1:56 PM on November 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


If anything, the drive to make good decisions should be higher, because bad decisions are catastrophes.

Who calls "good" and "bad" in this case? I saw many poor people make "good" decisions -- get good grades, don't pick up bad habits, go to college, get a job that matters -- that still live hand to mouth because their "good" decisions were made on the grounds that the world would reward them when there's no proof that is ever the case. The world doesn't reward good decisions. It rewards getting shit done, and if you don't know what kind of shit to get done, where are you? Someone has to show you these things and not everyone has that advantage

I also saw many people making "bad" decisions and now they've got hi-rise apartments in Manhattan and making more money than I'll ever see. They make "bad" decisions every day when they put on their suit and tie and go do whatever it is that the bankers we're all so pissed off about do. They came out of the same muck and the aspirational examples they had didn't let their deck-stacking be complicated by "morals" and so on.

When you're growing up and you see good people get nothing for doing the right thing their entire life, and people who do bad things prosper beyond your wildest dreams, how the hell are you going to make a good decision?
posted by griphus at 2:03 PM on November 13, 2013 [33 favorites]


$45 a month (what she says she spends on cigarettes) is very little - $1.50 a day. She could get...a candybar? A very cheap coffee? A couple of donuts?

You realize that donuts are basically cake, right? And so that means you have actually literally asked why she doesn't eat cake.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:07 PM on November 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


I also saw people make bad decisions. Many of these people are now in jail, in horrible life situations, or dead. None of them are middle class. At most, they have reached working class after a long period of struggle (during which they learned to make good decisions).

This kind of moralization doesn't work for me. You provide no proper criteria for what is "good", and so result in a superficial morality where "good" decisions are precisely those that improve the class status of an individual. That's circular reasoning, and so not a useful model. Whereas the article was an illustration of the cognitive limitations of making decisions due to class.
posted by polymodus at 2:10 PM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


EC, those were clearly (clearly) questions asked to point out their own uselessness.

I mean also it's Frowner, who is not exactly what I'd call a reactionary.
posted by kavasa at 2:11 PM on November 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


EC, those were clearly (clearly) questions asked to point out their own uselessness.

That wasn't quite so clear to me.

Frowner, if that's indeed what you were doing, my apologies.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:13 PM on November 13, 2013


And so that means you have actually literally asked why she doesn't eat cake.

I love a cheeky Antoinetteism as much as the next guy, but that's a really unfair reading of the comment you're quoting. They were actually arguing something more like "you wouldn't be able to buy very much cake".
posted by cortex at 2:14 PM on November 13, 2013 [18 favorites]


TIMING
posted by cortex at 2:14 PM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Just please look at the pdfs I linked in my first comment.

I am familiar with the idea of finite self-control. Like many parts of psychology, I think the studies are too nebulous to draw the conclusions that science journalism immediately drew, and there are conflicting scientific perspectives as well (Inzlicht).

Who calls "good" and "bad" in this case? I saw many poor people make "good" decisions -- get good grades, don't pick up bad habits, go to college, get a job that matters -- that still live hand to mouth because their "good" decisions were made on the grounds that the world would reward them when there's no proof that is ever the case.

Bad decisions are decisions that expose you to risk with no potential reward. Vices are not necessarily bad decisions in this context if they are not risky. It's the exposure to useless risk that is actively harmful. I'm not saying that making good decisions will automatically make life better, I'm saying they will prevent your life from getting worse, barring "shit happens" moments. (Bowel cancer at 23? You drew the joker. Three kids and you make minimum wage? You exposed yourself to bad risk.)
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:16 PM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


What's the key to comedy?
posted by gauche at 2:16 PM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Basic cable.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:18 PM on November 13, 2013


"gtfo, pov"

This made me burst out in tears. Yeah, this is what it feels like.
posted by _paegan_ at 2:19 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bad decisions are decisions that expose you to risk with no potential reward.

And rewards are good, right?

The point is that not all decision situations are good-bad. I would be very wary of casually judging another person's psychological and economic dilemmas using such terms. Real life isn't that clearcut.
posted by polymodus at 2:23 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


The world doesn't reward good decisions. It rewards getting shit done, and if you don't know what kind of shit to get done, where are you?

This, precisely. I know several people who grew up poor, who studied hard, got into great colleges and got liberal arts degrees and later graduate degrees ... and are still just as poor as when they started. If you don't have access to the information about what decisions are good and bad, then it doesn't much matter what you do.
posted by miyabo at 2:24 PM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Seriously, I am going to read her blog so hard:

For what it's worth, you don't have to feel guilty anyway. The world is not fair, and luck is not divided equally. Just don't vote against my interests to save yourself twenty dollars in taxes a year. Don't tell people to get a job, as though they are lying around on the ground for anyone who wants one. Don't assume that because someone is different than you, they are lesser than. Don't assume our world is the one in which you operate and that the rules are the same. If you can do those things, if you can let us just be human, then you have no reason to feel guilty because you have nice things. I am glad people have nice things. I just don't like being judged because I don't. Enjoy your life, my friend. You are one of the lucky ones. That is a good thing.

(Also from the comments.)
posted by polly_dactyl at 2:26 PM on November 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


$45 a month (what she says she spends on cigarettes) is very little - $1.50 a day. She could get...a candybar? A very cheap coffee? A couple of donuts?

Yes, I was responding to a sequence of comments that were all "why doesn't she get something healthier" and my point was that $45 is so little on a daily basis that all you could afford anyway was a candy bar or a couple of cheap donuts. I wasn't suggesting that she actually buy donuts, unless she wants them.

(In any case, she could eat cake, right? Unlike the peasants, since cake is so cheap in this age of cheap sugar. It's just that cake doesn't serve her purposes.)
posted by Frowner at 2:27 PM on November 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think some of you really don't understand either how addictive nicotine is (physically and psychologically

Exactly. I assume the suggestions that she "just" take up a different luxury/vice/coping mechanism come from people who have never tried to quit. You can walk into any NA meeting and find people who haven't touched heroin in 20 years but still can't quit the cigarettes. Even if she wanted to quit the chances that she'd be successful any time in the immediate future are slim.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:29 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's been made very apparent to me over the years that it's okay for those with money to make bad decisions (for whatever value you attribute to 'good' and 'bad') but those in poverty are not allowed to make these human mistakes.
posted by _paegan_ at 2:30 PM on November 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


I think it's really important to remember that for some of us, especially those of us who were poor and clawed our way up through whatever means, we're not talking about some decisions being bad in a sense of "ha-ha, poors! You really suck!" We're talking about it in a sense of futility and heartbreak, because it is awful, awful, awful to see someone with a chance of getting out say" fuck it" and give up when they are within sight of breathing room.

And so we want to say, "Come on! You know you can't afford another baby!" To the woman that you know, absolutely know, it will push her off the fragile ladder she's been climbing. To the woman who had a job interview, but didn't bother showing up, because fuck it, they wouldn't hire her anyway. Or the one who gives the rent money to her shitty pseudo boyfriend because he swears he'll pay her back and he loooooves her.

If we give advice, all the advice we might have, that doesn't mean that we care too little. It means we care too much.
posted by corb at 2:31 PM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't buy this at all.


The thing is, for some people, if they are poor, all their family and friends, all the people around them are poor too. So, let's say you are "being smart" and saving $50 month by giving up the one thing that makes your life even slightly pleasurable (smoking). And you're doing this diligently until you've saved up a grand. But soon, that $1000 you have saved up over the past two years starts to feel the gravitational pull of the people around you. Should you just keep holding on to it, or should you bail your brother out of jail, or pay your sister's rent so she doesn't get evicted and live in a shelter, or pay to have your dad put in a treatment program? Or should you just say fuck my family, I'm gonna escape poverty no matter what. Fourteen years from now, after I have my sweet condo, if those losers need a loan, we can talk, but until then, I'm a tightwad and proud of it.

And someone like that might successfully escape poverty. But a lot of people choose the other option, helping out their family and friends, because those values for them trump the value of achieving the American dream. Eventually they give up on the notion of escaping poverty; they come to see that every time they scrape together more than a couple of hundred bucks, someone who they dearly love will have a dire emergency and that money will be gone. That's just the way life is for them. You want to say it's their fault for being soft-hearted, and you can't sympathize with such a fool?

Fair enough, but the point of this article isn't to garner sympathy or to apportion blame. It's an explanation, not an alibi.
posted by xigxag at 2:34 PM on November 13, 2013 [54 favorites]


The way out of poverty is paved with lucky breaks or at least, with absence of unlucky ones. Like many of you, I grew up poor. Living in a trailer with a rotting floor full of holes and no bed to sleep in poor. I am convinced that three things helped me get out of poverty.
1. People told me I was smart.
2. I am white with no visible defects.
3. My mom put me on birth control when I was 13. I had a medical condition, but birth control works no matter why it was prescribed.
That is a lot of luck right there, and if you can't see your own luck, you're not looking hard enough.
posted by domo at 2:38 PM on November 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


Three kids and you make minimum wage? You exposed yourself to bad risk.

I had a child at 19 because I had no money, no support system, and when I asked the only person I knew for help, they took me a to a crisis pregnancy center instead of planned parenthood. I didn't have a car, I was homeless, and I had nowhere to turn except the baby daddy in the marines. I had my second child at 25, and I had made my way up into a relatively lower-middle class lifestyle. My then-husband went to Iraq, came back and we got divorced. Suddenly, I was raising 2 children with no support system on a minimum wage job because that's what I could get.

Through sheer dumb luck, I temped at a job where the CFO thought I was fantastic, and offered me a job that paid 3 times what I was making and gave me a way out. Looking back, as I'm firmly in a safe space where I can always pay my bills, and I don't have to worry about the same things I worried about for years, I can't understand how people don't see how hard it is when you have no options and no money. There are so many circumstances that lead to being mired in cycles where you can't see a way out, and where you can't take any better care of yourself. This woman works an insane amount- I have done full time school and work, and my mental health is so much the worse for it. Reading all the judgement, well-intentioned or not, just reinforces why it felt so impossible to make any strides above where I was for so many years. I had a string of good luck that means that I'm not in that space any more, and most of that luck isn't because I took all the advice to not think poor, because a part of my brain always will.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 2:48 PM on November 13, 2013 [39 favorites]


(It is without doubt telling of a massive derail in the comments that I feel like this thread needs a TRIGGER WARNING for anyone who ever has (much less is currently trying to) quit nicotine. Jesus! Apparently every rationalization your addict brain fed you during withdrawal was actually true. Who knew?!? Thank goodness I didn't, or I'd never have managed to actually quit...)
posted by artemisia at 3:12 PM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


> If I could go back and give myself some advice it would be to stop smoking and stop drinking because all that behavior did was make a shitty situation even shittier.

I missed this earlier, but...why didn't you stop then? You probably knew it was "bad" for you in a number of different ways - it's not like people aren't delighted to tell other people how bad smoking and drinking are for you (especially when you're poor) - so why didn't you stop then? Why would you need a time machine to go back and tell younger you what younger you probably already knew in some way?
posted by rtha at 3:46 PM on November 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


In the comments on article, someone mentions that ordering at restaurants is one of the things that generationally poor people have a problem with when trying to "fit into" middle class US culture. I have heard this before but I wonder if anyone here can clarify a little? What exactly is it that is the knowledge gap?
posted by coupdefoudre at 3:48 PM on November 13, 2013


I been watching this Rob Ford thing unfold, and if that guy managed to become mayor ain't no such thing as bad choices holding back some people. Fuck cigarettes, guy smokes or snorts anything he sees.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:52 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have heard this before but I wonder if anyone here can clarify a little? What exactly is it that is the knowledge gap?

There's a really poignant scene in The Wire where some of the (poor) kids from the 'hood were invited to go out to a restaurant with this (middle class) man who is, I think, thanking them for something. You can see the clip on YouTube. It's always stuck with me and speaks to your question.
posted by jessamyn at 3:53 PM on November 13, 2013 [23 favorites]


There was a radio piece I heard earlier this year - maybe a Youth Radio production? I'll try to find it - about young (like high school age) kids being mentored by small business owners and other white-collar people. The students were pretty much all poor and nonwhite. One part of the story was about going out for a "business lunch," and it was clear that not only did the kids not have any idea about nuances that can be confusing for people who grew up middle class or wealthier - stuff like what price point to not go past, what to order to drink, etc. - but they were terrified of even talking to the waitstaff to ask questions about can they get a different kind of salad dressing and what the hell is a panini anyway?. It was a seriously foreign experience to them. And weird things can be class markers, like you order grape soda instead of sparkling water.
posted by rtha at 3:55 PM on November 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Not to mention the stress of knowing that you're always underdressed and obviously don't belong there, assuming they don't have a dress code that automatically excludes you.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:59 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nowadays I consider myself something of a sophisticate, eating potatoes dauphinoise and sauteed asparagus every meal, but once in my mid 20s I took my then girlfriend out to dinner and they set a shallow bowl of olive oil with 2 black olives in it on the table. I was like "WTF, what are we going to do with one olive apiece, cheap bastards" and she had to tell me it was olive oil to dip my bread in.

Dating a girl from a very different background really taught me a lot, she taught me all the different sauces, different types of pastas, convinced me to eat asparagus told me what a nonpareil was. In return I convinced her to eat a McNugget, she had never been to McDonalds and never tried it again.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:05 PM on November 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


I think it's fine to take people's cigarette's away and they would be healthier as long as you provide them with housing and support and mental health care if they are unable to work to adequate standards after quitting.

Create better disability support, workplace accommodations, and housing programs for the unemployed and I'll start listening to banning nicotine, or presumptions the poor are making "bad" choices.

Mentally ill people who are in live in housing and don't have to work do fine without nicotine, the problem comes when being expected to function in the workplace/life and many people are not able to do so and nicotine improves that. Sometimes it improves that better than the meds they've been offered and with less side effects.

Unless you're willing to take care of them yourself, back off pressuming you know they aren't literally surviving as best they can.

I absolutely want everyone to move beyond harmful habits and behaviors whether toward themselves or others, but this reality can be extremely difficult and shaming people or presuming you know how hard they are trying or comparing them to yourselfs is often literally INACCURATE.

I know it's hard to believe your presumptions about other people could be wrong, but it's actually possible they are.

We should help people make better decisions by putting better accessible options on the table that meet their needs. Anything else is just sneering to feed a superiority complex that is often naive and not founded in actual science or truth. It is quite literally foolish and filled unexamined cognitive bias.

Which is also a coping mechanism and I agree the stable middle class/wealthy should be encouraged to change their behavior by being offered supportive alternative options and solutions to help them cope with the changes and challenge their own ignorance as well. Having experienced poverty is not the same thing as having experienced someone elses poverty. Being sexually abused and more, and having a learning disability combined spells disaster NO MATTER HOW HARD THE PERSON TRIES.

It doesn't matter how hard you try if you lack the ability to get to work on time and no flex time is available to you because poor people jobs don't come with flex time. You can not smoke and not drink all you want, you will still be poor forever if you can't master the school and work system. And as you start starving from the inside out and getting more ill because you literally can't afford anything but a mcd's dollar burger or ramen noodles and your body and brain are being slowly destroyed, you stop giving a fuck how many more years your forced to endure living in this hell called earth if you can have a break now. If it kills you SO WHAT.

We let people DIE in this country before house and feed them, how fucking dare anyone judge the desperately poor for having a fucking smoke.
posted by xarnop at 4:10 PM on November 13, 2013 [15 favorites]


There's a really poignant scene in The Wire where some of the (poor) kids from the 'hood were invited to go out to a restaurant with this (middle class) man who is, I think, thanking them for something.

Great scene. If I recall correctly, the older guy is Bunny, the former precinct captain who created the no-arrest drug-use zone in Hamsterdam to draw the crime away from other neighborhoods and localize and control it. He subsequently took a lot of heat from the city for it and had to dismantle the program. In the show he ends up teaching in a public school and I think these are some of his students who did well and he is rewarding them for it.

This reminds me of what fantastic sociological lessons that show taught as it fascinated and entertained.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:13 PM on November 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Not to mention the stress of knowing that you're always underdressed and obviously don't belong there, assuming they don't have a dress code that automatically excludes you.

This reminds me. In Boston, there's a hotel on the corner of Mass. Ave. and Comm. Ave. called the Eliot. It's set back a bit from the Comm. Ave. sidewalk, so the entrance on that side has a thin, extended iron canopy. A doorman in a black jacket and kepi stands beside the doorway. Stop to look, and you can see a lobby lit in gold tones.

I've never been inside. No matter what I'm wearing, no matter how much I want to poke inside to have a look, even though I know I could probably do so if I wanted, I just don't think I look like I have the money to walk past the doorman. And I didn't even grow up in poverty.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:19 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks Jessamyn and others, I watched that scene from The Wire and it definitely helped me. For those of you also wondering, I'll lay out some of the problems the kids had when dining at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse:

- Before they got there, assuming that it was a burger joint and talking about how they were going to get the biggest fries/meal combo on the menu
- Finding out it was steak, and realizing they don't know what rare, medium, etc. really means
- The hostess asks to take their coats - they were very uncomfortable, obviously didn't know what was going on
- Hostess says that the waitress will be right with them and would let them know the specials - "the waitress? Then who was that?" and also thinking that the specials are like "K-Mart blue light specials" and would be the cheapest things on the menu
- One kid makes fun of another for drinking water right out of the glass, instead of with a straw (he assumed the straw was the fancier way to drink water)
- The waitress arrives and rattles off the specials, all "basil aioli" and "chanterelles". Kids are obviously getting upset that they are so out of their element
- Waitress asks for drink orders. Kids are overwhelmed and do not know what to say
- Cut to after dinner, they want to go to McD's because they are hungry. The stuff they ordered they didn't like, because they didn't really know what they were ordering

This scene did a great job of reminding me how much knowledge you need to feel comfortable in a restaurant even before drink orders are placed. The kids went in to the restaurant very excited and psyched to try something nice, and they left dejected and a little angry that they didn't know these things and didn't fit in. Their "fun" experience turned into just another way to remind them that they weren't good enough.
posted by coupdefoudre at 4:24 PM on November 13, 2013 [30 favorites]


There's a really poignant scene in The Wire where some of the (poor) kids from the 'hood were invited to go out to a restaurant with this (middle class) man who is, I think, thanking them for something.

They build an Eiffel tower model faster than the other teams build their models.

There is another similar scene with D'Angelo Barksdale where he tries to take a slice of cake off the desert trolley.

Source: I re-watched the series last month.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:26 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I used to date someone who came from a poor background. I come from white bread middle class. I flat out did not get the kinds of things he had to deal with--like I didn't get why he would literally blow his entire paycheck within 12 hours of getting it on computer game accessory crap instead of paying the bills first and THEN blowing what was left on computer game accessory crap, or whatever. Or why everyone around him smoked, or were always having babies when they were homeless or close to it or in one case, her boyfriend was about to go to jail and she desperately wanted to get pregnant before he did. It's a different world from where you're coming from.

I must have come off as a total smug asshole to those people.

This helps to explain everything.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:40 PM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I must have come off as a total smug asshole to those people.

See, I feel like that's not fair.

Just like growing up poor can leave you unprepared for things like ordering at a restaurant, growing up in a different environment can leave one unprepared to understand other people's choices.
posted by sparklemotion at 4:56 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Previously and subsequently
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:57 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


> There's a really poignant scene in The Wire where some of the (poor) kids from the 'hood were invited to go out to a restaurant with this (middle class) man who is, I think, thanking them for something. You can see the clip on YouTube. It's always stuck with me and speaks to your question.

That's a great clip and reminds me of the time I took a young friend out for her birthday to the Union Square Cafe. She's white and was graduating from Hunter College and wanted to be a writer, she didn't come from desperate poverty, but she was not at all familiar with restaurant dining and the experience was not unlike the clip. She had never heard of the USC and assumed it was a regular old cafe where she'd order a burger or something, so the first shock was when it turned out to be an expensive restaurant and I was wearing jacket and tie (which made her realize she was seriously underdressed). She almost turned around and left; I whipped off the tie and talked her down, and fortunately the USC is a very laid-back place that caters to everyone (thanks, Danny Meyer!), and we had a great meal, but it was an educational experience for both of us.

> This thread is making me want to take up smoking

Yeah, me too. The inevitable "poor people are dumb" derail is one of the worst features of MeFi now that we've pretty much gotten rid of the "wimmenz are weird and sexy" one.
posted by languagehat at 5:02 PM on November 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


See, I feel like that's not fair.

You're not required to feel like a smug asshole. Neither was jenfullmoon. You can feel enlightened or more educated or just nothing if you want. She isn't telling you how to feel, and neither is her ex. This is on you.

That little sting of unfairness you feel, just from reading what *someone else* felt? Imagine that you get to feel that your whole life because people directly tell you that that's how you get to feel because you're poor in a culture that regards poverty as a moral problem.
posted by rtha at 5:24 PM on November 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


"who is Kinja"

Content economics, part 4: scale - huh, hmmmm...
posted by kliuless at 5:25 PM on November 13, 2013


because people directly tell you that that's how you get to feel because you're poor in a culture that regards poverty as a moral problem

So much better to be here where admitting that you don't understand poverty and seeking to learn more is the true moral problem then.
posted by sparklemotion at 5:30 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you think the poor don't need to smoke, then go ahead and price cigarettes at ten dollars a pack. It'll discourage them. It's good for them. And meanwhile it just makes people even more poor.

I don't think taxing cigarettes makes poor people more poor, and there's an empirical case to be made against that assertion.

We know that taxing something means people will use less of it, and the correlation between cigarette taxes and cigarette consumption is as clear as it gets. (Yes, that's me linking to an AEI article. Credit where credit is due.) There are some other factors (increasing awareness of health risks, advertising restrictions, etc.) but the people who study this stuff say the taxes do most of the work.

Now, we also know that the poor smoke at higher rates than the general population, but the slope of their decline in tax use is roughly the same as that of those above the poverty lined, declining from 40% in the early 1980s to around 30% today.

So, using data from the first chart, we see the tax on cigarettes has gone from something like $0.25 in 1980 to over $2.50 today. (I'm assuming they're using 2010 dollars.) That's an increase of $2.25. On the other axis, we have the number of cigarettes sold per capita going down from about 3,800 to 1,300. That's a decline in sales of 2500 cigarettes per person per year, (125 packs less per person) and since the average pack costs about $5.50, that's a savings of some $680 dollars per year, not to mention the massive savings on healthcare costs.

Now, this number is across the entire population, not just smokers, and not just smokers below the poverty line, so without more detailed numbers about the number of cigarettes purchased just by those below the poverty line, I can't make a bulletproof case here. But clearly, increasing the tax on something by $2.25 to get nearly 10% of the population to stop spending $5.50 a pack is going to save some people money. Those who continue to smoke will spend more, but eventually they, too, will follow the economic incentives to quit.

I think the burden of proof is on those who think the tax increases aren't working, or are costing the poor, in aggregate, to pay more than they would if taxes were lower, and therefore more of them were smoking. I do have serious issues with the regressive nature of taxing a product that's used more by the poor than the rich, but cigarette taxes do work to reduce consumption, which saves people money and makes them healthier, meaning taxpayers have to pay less to care for their health. It sounds like a net win to me.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:35 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well the key to encouraging and helping people to change their behavior is to first understand what it provides to the person engaging in it, for example some people might need to believe they have been bestowed good things because of their choices, that other people don't deserve those good things because they haven't made good choices.

Why would someone need to think that? Sometimes our coping mechanisms are serving us and sometimes we think we need them but we can actually move on from them.

Kind of like smoking. When they're ready, maybe they'll choose to quit. Maybe we could create a "poor shaming cessation program" to make it easier for people who are ready to start making good choices and do the work of actually considering the world and other humans lives are more complex than their simplistic just world view.

It IS very overwhelming to consider how much suffering is in the world and we do all need an off button. Perhaps we could give ourselves a break from the weight of others unnecessary suffering without having to demonize them in the process in order to console ourselves for not being able to help them?

Facing our own bad choices is a terrible experience, we should be none to excited to wish that on any other, as we've all made them. Reward positive action, discourage harmful behavior with understanding that human capacity for change is limited and must be made carefully with respect for the needs of the person making the change.

It's like a yoga class, if you push someone into their painful spots and don't let them stop, you really might be injuring them and them demeaning them when they tell you they are being injured by the amount of change being forced.

If you're going to push people into pain you should have a LOT of training about the biology of what the pain actually is and whether it actually is, scientifically speaking, safe to continue. Our science itself is limited and changing all the time so being naive enough to believe you know for sure is also presumptuous and something shoved on the poor all the time. "I'm an expert I know what's best!" and yet sometimes the experts are wrong.

There was a time when all people with learning disabilities were labelled lazy. It's amazing how our learning changes things. To think we fully understand other humans is presuming a godly amount of understanding of science. Interfering with others should quite literally be more a matter of either self defense or of collaboration and negotiation with as fair and empowering terms as possible. In terms of the rich judging the poor, that can mean life or death, resources or none, help or nothing, isolation or acceptance.

I don't have a problem with cigarette taxes and price decreases in products such as ecigs/nicotine gum etc. I feel like taxes should match the actual cost to society.

It's like paying insurance when you buy a product with a high cost.

So we should also be taxing gas use extremely high.
posted by xarnop at 5:42 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


So much better to be here where admitting that you don't understand poverty and seeking to learn more is the true moral problem then.

I apologize if I've made you feel bad. I did not understand from your comments that you were seeking to understand more, since you just seemed to be taking things (from the article, from jenfullmoon's comment, e.g.) really personally that were not directed specifically at you. I hope other comments here have been helpful.

I mean, can I ask what exactly about jenfullmoon's description of her feelings was unfair?
posted by rtha at 5:43 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Taxing products based on potential health and environmental costs of the user of the product (and the producers of the product) is a great idea, btw. Somehow I don't think people who propose it For Smoking are actually ready to go that road with their own harmful purchasing choices (but I would be happy to be wrong about that!)

What if our foreign made products were taxed because of the cost they create of taking jobs away from americans? Or the costs to the environment and humans of bad regulations in foriegn companies? I mean I'm in favor of this concept, I just; can we really do it and not just when it's poor people habits on the table?

Let's all agree to stop expecting everything to be cheap just because we want it and actually regard the amount of labor and resources taken, and harms associated with production or use, when debating a price/tax?
posted by xarnop at 5:57 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


BrashTech: There are also other methods.

Whoa. Really? As a womb-owning human, who just linked to Planned Parenthood's pages on birth control, I was totally ignorant of that, so I appreciate you taking the time to educate me.

But in your previous comment, you didn't mention anything but condoms, and my point is that, although condoms are cheap and easy to acquire, the failure rate is high. A lot of people (especially male people, not that I've done a carefully controlled study) seem to think that the way to avoid pregnancy is to just use a condom, and if a woman got pregnant she must not have used one—but condoms are really not all that great. It's quite possible the author was using condoms, and they failed her.
posted by BrashTech at 5:58 PM on November 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


can I ask what exactly about jenfullmoon's description of her feelings was unfair?

jenfullmoon said: I must have come off as a total smug asshole to those people.

I thought that that was unfair (to jenfullmoon) because I don't think that it would be any more fair for those people to see jenfullmoon as a "total smug asshole" for not understanding their choices than it would be to see Namond and his friends as morons for not understanding napkins in that clip from the Wire.

you just seemed to be taking things (from the article, from jenfullmoon's comment, e.g.) really personally that were not directed specifically at you.

I'm couching my opinions in language that makes it clear that my opinions are my own ("I feel like", etc.). I'm not sure why you read that as me taking things personally.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:05 PM on November 13, 2013


That clip from The Wire is interesting. My boyfriend and I are going to start watching soon and I'm excited.

The restaurant scene in question reminds me of how I started dating an older professional class man from a middle-class family in my first year of college. He took me out to fancy restaurants and it was so embarrassing for me at the time to not know how to do anything. I loved the food and it was delightful and everything but I was so clueless about the rituals. It really marked me and he'd kind of subtly mock me about it at times, saying I was "parochial" in a weird affectionate way (though I didn't do anything outright rude, I don't think). Eghhh. It makes me a little nauseous to remember. It must be nicer to learn those things as a small child when errors are expected. On the other hand, that guy taught me a lot of things about how to survive socially in the middle class, for which I am super grateful.

Speaking of someone taking your coat and all, it's so weird how half of the social grace of the upper class is knowing how to let other people do things for you with aplomb. Not talking to the coat lady/janitor/waitress like a peer. Speaking to them kindly and graciously of course, but maintaining a social barrier because it would be "weird" to have a conversation with them. It always struck me as inexplicable until I realized that most people accepting help in that way didn't have mothers/fathers/entire families who were waitresses, janitors, &c.

Disclaimer, this is not true of all middle/upper-middle class/rich people.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:18 PM on November 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


See, it's not at all clear to me that that is in fact how they saw her - I read it as how she thought that's how they could have seen her actions or attitudes (maybe how she might have felt if she were in their shoes), but not how they actually saw her or treated her.

And it's precisely your comments that are solely about how *you* feel - rather than, say, asking questions about some particular thing you didn't understand - that made it seem like you felt like these were directed at you and made you sound (to me) defensive.
posted by rtha at 6:19 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The point is the same whether they actually saw her that way or if she thinks that they saw her that way: it would be shitty for people to see her that way.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:28 PM on November 13, 2013


Great essay. I didn't understand poor until watching a close loved one try to get by on minimum wage. Everything that goes wrong in her life, no matter how minor, turns into a spiral of doom. I get a speeding ticket, I pay it. She gets a speeding ticket, she can't afford to pay it, she can't make it to court because she'll get fired if she doesn't go to work-- the next thing you know she's got a bench warrant and sky high court fines she'll be paying off for three more years. I dealt with that ticket in five min, while she faced repercussions for years for the same exact thing. Multiply that times every one of life's minor inconveniences and you've got her existence.
posted by snarfles at 6:38 PM on November 13, 2013 [26 favorites]


Wow. THIS is why I love Metafilter, for bringing me things like this.

It really feels like scholarships and financial aid are for well-connected, motivated, and intelligent poors with stronger bootstraps or better families than the rest of us.

I was thinking about this today at the grocery store. Man, I was extremely lucky I was loved by my teachers and that the high school I went to my senior year was a small charter school with a "homebase teacher" who went over this stuff with everyone whom she knew personally.

Man oh man, 113 new comments since I last saw this!
posted by eq21 at 7:28 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


In SUNLIGHT JR., which comes out this week, Naomi Watts plays a member of the working poor, struggling to make ends meet at a gas station convenience store. (She also smokes, actually.) I heard the movie was inspired by NICKEL AND DIMED.
posted by jimmymcvee at 8:05 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of the most valuable things that reading and participating on Metafilter has taught me is - when people tell you about their experience, their reality, control your kneejerk urges to *splain and learn to shut up and listen.

We've had this dynamic play out with gender, race, cis/trans, and now, reading the comments on KillerMartinis' post and this thread, I'm seeing middleclassplaining. It does my head in.
posted by Catch at 8:32 PM on November 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


It really feels like scholarships and financial aid are for well-connected, motivated, and intelligent poors with stronger bootstraps or better families than the rest of us.

To a large extent, I think this is true. I've been a little surprised to find over the years that a good start to escaping poverty is having the wherewithal to ask a helpful person for good directions.

This is the kind of thing my own father couldn't muster all his life. Pride or whatever dictated that he do things his own way. So despite some good breaks over the years, he could never escape the pull of the risky deal that offered instant gratification. And usually got stung as a result. He also exhibited other failings that, while offering short term pleasure (smoke, drink, excessive and poor food), did him no favors in the long run. He boased of a "you only live once" outlook that in the end alienated him from his family and took him at a relatively early age despite the many warnings. In his case, it turned out that you can take the boy out of poorhouse, but you can't take the poorhouse out of the boy.

Was it a personal failing? He grew up in poverty. Yet his siblings avoided the self sabotage that he exhibited. He was unable to ever really escape poverty all his life. Despite a great desire to make it big, his actions were predictably aiming to keep him from doing so.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:45 PM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Facing our own bad choices is a terrible experience…It's like a yoga class, if you push someone into their painful spots and don't let them stop, you really might be injuring them…

I'm sorry, but no, facing our own bad choices is the moment we have the opportunity to stop making bad choices. It is nothing like yoga, because whereas the body has limitations on what it can stand, the heart is limitless in its capacity to accommodate reality.

I wonder if you think it is some testament to your empathy to disavow the plainly obvious life errors that this woman is justifying. If it were your own child, I think you would be able to listen compassionately while ensuring that your child faces her own bad choices. Life is too short to remain silent in the face of poor choices. Love is both listening and speaking.
we are always asked
to understand the other person's
viewpoint
no matter how
out-dated
foolish or
obnoxious.

one is asked
to view
their total error
their life-waste
with
kindliness,
especially if they are
aged.

but age is the total of
our doing.
they have aged
badly
because they have
lived
out of focus,
they have refused to
see.

not their fault?

whose fault?
mine?

I am asked to hide
my viewpoint
from them
for fear of their
fear.

age is no crime

but the shame
of a deliberately
wasted
life

among so many
deliberately
wasted
lives

is. — Bukowski
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:44 PM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jesus Christ, some of the comments in this thread are depressing.

I grew up with private schooling and piano lessons and overseas trips and piles of books and homemade bread and freshly-squeezed orange juice and university degrees and top health care and quality, stylish clothing. And I still landed in my late twenties with an unplanned pregnancy and a string of abusive boyfriends and a pack-a-day smoking habit.

And now I don't smoke because I replaced my pack-a-day habit with a $120 per month gym membership, where I get to sweat out my angst in name-brand lycra and then come home and make myself some iron-rich steak in my Scanpan with broccolini and organic feta, before sleeping for 8 hours on my 1000-thread-count cotton sheets.

And yet I'm the 'poorest' person in my social circle. Because I live on one income and my car is 10 years old, and I rent rather than owning my own home, and I have credit card debt from law school. But I had $700 worth of dental work done last week, and my fridge is full of fresh food, and last month my home espresso machine broke so I ordered a latte-to-go from the local café every morning before work, using the app I've got downloaded on my iPhone 5, and then felt guilty about the expense for all of about 3 minutes.

Right now, my credit card is maxed and I forgot to log my hours online last week, so I have $38 in my savings account for the weekend. But even I know that I am fucking MINTED in ways that I am not even aware of, compared to this person.

esprit de l'escalier: you are missing the point. This woman is not justifying, she is explaining. These 'plainly obvious life errors' are so much easier to make and, much more importantly, so much harder to rectify, if you are born poor. What part of that are you not getting??
posted by Salamander at 10:05 PM on November 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


the heart is limitless in its capacity to accommodate reality

Plainly falsified by, for example, soldiers coming back from war or people who have been abused by loved ones.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:35 PM on November 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


It's not just access to money but to security, whether through implicit social access of having a "good" degree and middle-upper class upbringing, having a strong family network that can support you in a crisis, or having access to funds/welfare that is more than keeping the wolf from the door. It's being able to think of the future with confidence.

What is the point in saving by sacrificing the tiny pleasures left to you or taking the time from today's struggles to put effort into planning for tomorrow, when you have repeatedly seen those plans fail and have very few people around you make any headway out? You are throwing good money after bad to keep trying when the odds are that high against you, and you're exhausted. Better to just survive the day. And enjoy a smoke break.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:43 PM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


This woman is not justifying, she is explaining.

That's what I've been saying from the start.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:47 PM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, working the system and being self-disciplined enough to have good files, meal plan and all that stuff takes serious energy, time and education. A major part of what the place I work with in Cambodia does is do the paperwork and running around for families to get their kids enrolled, pick up exam papers, talk to teachers and take people to hospitals and find the paperwork and then talk to another NGO to get the services and - patching together the resources takes expertise and time and energy. Asking a woman who has worked a 12 hour shift at a factory and has to come home to handwash her five children's clothes and cook and clean the tiny half-fallen down shack they live in to be able to do this is just insane.

This is stuff I struggle to get done for my own family in a developed country with an education and flexible hours, and we still managed to miss out on some health subsidies because we couldn't get organised enough.

I hate the way we turn the outliers, the very very few people who manage to claw their way out of deep poverty through luck and hard work (and genetic good fortune of being born with the traits of resilience and intelligence) into some kind of easy to achieve minimal standard. "He made it, why can't they?" is like expecting lightning strikes to be a reliable fire-starter.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:53 PM on November 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


What if our foreign made products were taxed because of the cost they create of taking jobs away from americans?

Also, this is terrible economics. By moving in the opposite direction, we have become significantly richer.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:54 PM on November 13, 2013


This woman is not justifying, she is explaining.

That's what I've been saying from the start.


Let me re-explain: She says
I smoke. It's expensive. It's also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It's a stimulant.
On the face, it seems like she is justifying her smoking. Many people in this thread surprisingly agreed with her rationale — that smoking is a good idea for her. I think it's a ridiculous justification and that she must realize how ridiculous it is and is only describing (explaining) her thought process. So, I agree with you, that she can't be so opaque to believe (at least profoundly) that smoking is a good idea for her. But maybe she does, or maybe it is a good idea for her, maybe she should live for the moment…

Like I said, she is articulate, which makes for a great article, but unfortunately has allowed her to contrive some convincing justifications for smoking and junk food.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:04 PM on November 13, 2013


esprit de l'escalier - you are being deliberately obtuse. Thanks for letting me see a deliberately obtuse person acting in their native habitat.

I am poor. I completely understand one thing, ONE thing from that well written article: being poor puts you in the moment. The "future" is something like " two days from now" because that's when I get paid and will have more than five bucks in my pocket.

I'm with her on the 12 for two burritos. They are terrible. But I can't, CAN'T afford broccoli and gas money this week. 3 bucks for pork chops and rice: meals for two days. Burritos: meals for four days.

Also:I got a bank account recently:
- state issued ID - let's not talk about the hoops I had to go through to get that
- two utility bills to prove residence - the bills aren't in my name though so that took some explaining
- proof of income - a check stub
- money - in my case a check from a customer that I had to let the bank hold for ten days.

I squander my money on coca cola and ebooks. To me, these luxuries are exactly the same as her cigarettes. They are a welcome break from, for a few minutes anyway, being in the moment.

You're privileged and you can't understand this situation, I get that. Maybe you should listen instead of speaking.
posted by disclaimer at 2:56 AM on November 14, 2013 [19 favorites]


It's not just access to money but to security, whether through implicit social access of having a "good" degree and middle-upper class upbringing, having a strong family network that can support you in a crisis, or having access to funds/welfare that is more than keeping the wolf from the door. It's being able to think of the future with confidence.

I agree. It's access to a safety net (or actually a set of safety nets) that makes you firmly middle or upper class, not the immediate income. That's why so many college students, and even more so grad students, can have very low incomes without actually being poor -- if you have the fortune of coming from a middle class family and you have all kinds of cultural capital, your life on a $17k graduate stipend is not at all the same as the kind of person in this FPP who might have a similar or even higher income.

Probably the least part is having parents with enough money to help you in a crisis. Much bigger are all the other components of the invisible safety nets that cocoon someone like me in a web of privilege and magically prevent the crisis from ever happening. Things like good dental care in my youth so my teeth look appropriate in a white collar setting. Being comfortable going out to dinner with the boss (which directly led to my last promotion, so I know this matters -- in another industry, this would be about going golfing with clients, say). Having friends who are advancing in white collar/management roles, so if I was laid off I'd have a network of peers in hiring roles to lean on. Health insurance, paid time off, and a non-exploitative workplace that encourages taking family leave, rather than retaliating against it.

I could go on for pages and pages, but it's simply the mirror image of what she is describing. I don't have personal experience with being wealthy, but being middle/upper-middle class is about having the security, stability, and support to take expensive risks (eg grad school, an unpaid internship, foreign travel) and make choices that defer immediate gratification in favor of long term rewards (eg saving money, eating grass-fed beef, not smoking).
posted by Dip Flash at 3:14 AM on November 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


think of it this way: when life is in the shitter, whether its poverty or depression, it can be like waking up knowing you're going to get punched in the face like five times. And yes, it is all very well to say, 'screw up your face and take the punch! you don't need that cigarette' but when you are exhausted, heartbroken, and terrified of the bills you can't pay, that one cigarette helps you take those five punches without crying after each one. And you can't cry, that's not allowed at either of two jobs or it will freak your kids out.

I don't have kids, but I have been in the shitter many times. Cigarettes are a crutch AN EVIL ONE I THINK THAT'S UNDISPUTED OKAY? But when you are falling, an evil crutch doesn't seem so evil. It seems like something that is keeping you alive.
posted by angrycat at 3:28 AM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


"we have become significantly richer"
who is we.
posted by xarnop at 4:28 AM on November 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


"the heart is limitless in its capacity to accommodate reality."

You realize that this is literally not true? On what actual evidence are you basing this claim other than you made it up and it makes you feel profound?

This is an exampled of a clearly false thought that makes you feel good inside and has helped you cope with life but that is quite literally false and allows you to believe other people are at fault for being broken by trauma and suffering. If trauma hasn't broken you, be glad.

No need to shit on those who have already been broken just to stroke your ego, or feed to delusion you can make it through "anything" unscathed.
posted by xarnop at 4:31 AM on November 14, 2013 [17 favorites]


The "going to school" part of this article seems incongruous with the defeatism of the rest of it. Why bother going to school if, "I will never not be poor"? At least if you didn't go to class you could get some more sleep.
Maybe she believes it will make her slightly less poor. Having a degree might enable her to get a job that doesn't lift her out of poverty but allows her to survive with just one job instead of two. Or maybe she's afraid that she'll eventually lose one of the jobs she's working at now, and having a degree will make it easier to find a new one.
posted by laurasbadideas at 5:17 AM on November 14, 2013


One of the author's responses made me "LOL" IRL.
I like to put it this way:

Sure, I can pull myself up by my bootstraps. I am a hard worker.

Can I please borrow your bootstraps?
This is an excellent piece.
posted by DigDoug at 5:52 AM on November 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's funny that you quote Bukowski. In moments of lucidity, he acknowledged that his literary career would have been impossible without the generosity of his patrons. Moreover, a major theme of that career is the moral, intellectual, and physical toll of wage labor and poverty.

So.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:13 AM on November 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


Figure this is a good place for Scalzi's essay Being Poor.
posted by XtinaS at 6:42 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The idea that anyone with a social safety net is not poor is the kind of thing that lets people make generalizations for all poor people though they were exactly the same- because by defining out that way, they have become so.

I grew up poor, but part of a big family, which means a wealth of handmedowns and advice and assistance and work connections. Should that have made us middle class, despite our extremely unsafe living conditions (I can vividly remember people being shot nearby) and washing things via washboard and food issues and using black market medicine for serious accidents? Or should we have become middle class when one cousin married up? I don't think so. The poor create safety nets of their own - maybe less money involved, but a lot of effort and care. It is just those who have had their families decimated that have no safety net at all - which is, I will note, a not-insignificant number.
posted by corb at 7:22 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am grateful for Scalzi's essay every time I reread it. The one that always gets me is:

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:33 AM on November 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


The idea that anyone with a social safety net is not poor

Has anyone here advanced that idea, in that many words?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:43 AM on November 14, 2013


Can't link easily from my phone, but I was responding mainly to Dip Flash's comment at 6:14 that having a safety net put you at middle or upper class, regardless of income.
posted by corb at 8:12 AM on November 14, 2013


I think your reading of that comment was different from what Dip Flash was saying which (to me) is more that the absence of any sort of safety net (social, familial, whatever) is often an actual marker of people who are truly poor and not just going through a bad spell. People who have multiple safety nets that can help them right themselves, get good information and lean on others in times of hardship have an easier time of it.

What Dip Flash was saying was that it's not the money that makes you middle class, per se, it's the fact that you have these safety nets in place, so even if the money vanishes, you are still somewhat more protected from bottoming out and getting stuck in a situation that it takes years to extricate yourself from. He did not, at all, say that anyone with a social safety net is not poor.
posted by jessamyn at 8:18 AM on November 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't see how anyone can argue against the idea that access to a safety net (of any kind) increases one's chance for success. The cousin who "married up" counterexample is a straw man argument, because very few cousins are going to have enough resources to share with their extended family. Maybe they'll be a good person to call if you're really in a jam, but nobody's saying that anyone who has a family member who breaks out of poverty is no longer poor. All other things being equal, those who can get connected to some source of assistance, whether it's public or private, whether it's financial assistance or just making a phone call to the right person, will have better outcomes than those who can't.

I really don't see how this is controversial.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:27 AM on November 14, 2013


I am grateful for Scalzi's essay every time I reread it. The one that always gets me is:

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:33 AM on November 14 [2 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]



Man alive. There are almost 600 comments on that page. I was already broken by the time I got to:

Being poor is hearing your daughter tell you twenty years later that she finally realized that ‘Mommy already ate, sweetie’ was a lie.
posted by polly_dactyl at 8:34 AM on November 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


As I read all these comments about the short-term rewards of smoking versus the long-term dangers, and how poor people make this decision incorrectly, I am put in mind of investors demanding that companies do things (cough up dividends, cut R&D budgets, offshore labor) that are also beneficial in the short term but harmful in the long term. Just 'cause you're rich don't mean you're perfect.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:11 AM on November 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


As someone with little experience with 'real' poverty, both in my personal and professional (research) life, the article and this discussion have been illuminating, thanks for posting and for all the thoughtful comments here.

One thing that hasn't been discussed is all the millions of good decisions poor people make every day. I think it's important we recognize that and put bad decisions on a spectrum with the good decisions. This is where sometimes the "blame the victim" and the "infantilize the poor" contingents meet up. For me it's not that smoking is a good rational choice, it's that choosing to work two jobs and go to school to feed your family and strive for something a bit better so greatly outweigh the smoking that the bad choice isn't really worth focusing on.
posted by cell divide at 11:14 AM on November 14, 2013 [19 favorites]


sparklemotion: "I thought that that was unfair (to jenfullmoon) because I don't think that it would be any more fair for those people to see jenfullmoon as a "total smug asshole" for not understanding their choices than it would be to see Namond and his friends as morons for not understanding napkins in that clip from the Wire. "

People see what you show them, not what's rattling around in your head, so if you say things that a smug asshole would say because you don't know any better rather than because you're a smug asshole, other people will probably think you're a smug asshole. It takes a significant level of mental effort (at least for me) to consider where people are coming from seriously enough to get in their head and determine that maybe they don't know/have other motivations/whatever. It's much easier to go with the story they're telling, even though it's usually not the whole truth.

My SO has been spending a lot of time with a person who has BPD and NPD. I know that when she says the completely unacceptable things she says she does it because her condition makes it difficult to impossible to know any better. Sadly, that doesn't make it any easier to deal with in the moment. Similarly, when people act like a smug asshole, knowing that they just don't know better doesn't help much in the moment.

I've done and said so many things in my life because I didn't know better at the time that make me cringe looking back. That's OK. It doesn't make me a bad person, it just means I was unintentionally rude and inconsiderate. It would be quite unreasonable of me to take issue with someone thinking I am rude and inconsiderate given that I was the one to send them that message in the first place. Fair or not, I can't be upset when someone takes me at my word.

esprit de l'escalier: Way to discount the lived experience of some 40% of the country. It is undeniable that free trade has made the US as a whole a much richer place. The problem is that the outsized gains from the outsourcing of manufacturing have all accrued to the people in the top 20% of the income distribution, while those in the bottom 40% have seen their real incomes drop as a result of the oversupply in the domestic labor market. The upper-middle-class to rich are increasing their wealth by more than the lower-middle-class to poor are losing it, but that's little comfort to those who are getting the raw end of the deal. A cheap big screen TV or smartphone doesn't mean much when what you really need is an office job with health benefits.
posted by wierdo at 12:18 PM on November 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think some of us have a need to express our opinions about how the author could live her life better, because we need to believe that the good aspects of our own current status are a result of how clever or self-disciplined we are, rather than because of our incredible luck. Forcing ourselves to see through her eyes would mean the abandonment of the illusion that we control our destiny and for most of us, that is too painful a reality to bear. That potential stops our ears and clouds our eyes.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:55 PM on November 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


I grew up poor, but part of a big family, which means a wealth of handmedowns and advice and assistance and work connections. Should that have made us middle class, despite our extremely unsafe living conditions (I can vividly remember people being shot nearby) and washing things via washboard and food issues and using black market medicine for serious accidents?

Except for that last one (seriously?), I could say the same. Add in roving packs of wild Dobermans to terrorize 3-yr-old me. I am not and was not poor. My father was a neurosurgeon and those were the conditions we lived under while he was in training.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:00 PM on November 14, 2013


The one thing this piece immediately reminded me of was George Orwell's "The Road to Wigan Pier",particularly the section about the choices poor people make about food:
"The half-crown spent on meat might represent a small joint and the materials for a stew; probably as often as not it would represent four or five tins of bully beef. The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potatoes — an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t...When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and we’ll all have a nice cup of tea!... White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don’t nourish you to any extent, but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the English-man’s opium."
posted by pharm at 1:08 PM on November 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


wierdo: People see what you show them, not what's rattling around in your head, so if you say things that a smug asshole would say because you don't know any better rather than because you're a smug asshole, other people will probably think you're a smug asshole.

By this logic, there's nothing wrong with assuming that poor people are stupid (unless you're one of the enlightened who have read this article (or Scalzi's, or John Cheese's)).
posted by sparklemotion at 5:11 PM on November 14, 2013


esprit de l'escalier: Way to discount the lived experience of some 40% of the country. It is undeniable that free trade has made the US as a whole a much richer place. The problem is that the outsized gains from the outsourcing of manufacturing…

I'm not discounting anyone's experience. I don't know where you get your 40% figure or how you can with ascertain who is actually losing from tariff reduction. We all see the gains from tariff reduction when we buy anything. There are some short-term unemployment costs, but it is very hard to know whether people who can't find work long-term in a globalized economy would have had the work to begin with in a protectionist one.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 5:35 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Plainly falsified by, for example, soldiers coming back from war or people who have been abused by loved ones.

I watched a great video of Barbara Corcoran where she talks about bouncing back. Unlike physical trials, which can actually kill us, emotionally, we always eventually bounce back though it may take a lifetime or longer. What slows down? Fear of "facing our own bad choices" (as xarnop puts it). Thought it might feel like a "terrible experience", any loving parent or teacher knows its transformative power.

When we love someone, we listen to their experiences, the mental landscape that drew them to one situation or another. But, you cannot love someone and let them end a discussion saying:
None of it matters. We don't plan long-term because if we do we'll just get our hearts broken. It's best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.
Nihilistic fatalism can take advantage of a series of big hits, but it is an illness. It dissolves with the human urge to dream. When we love someone, we want to awaken that urge. What is the point of stopping people from killing themselves if they live as if they were dead?

Ultimately, this is where I have a profound disagreement with some of you. Helping a person see their "total error, their life waste" is not malicious; it is the difficult key that opens a new future. Let us without judgement trace the contours of our past experiences, but let us imagine a new future free from old tribulations.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 6:09 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're privileged and you can't understand this situation, I get that. Maybe you should listen instead of speaking.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I don't understand what it has to do with anything I said. I allowed for the possibility that smoking and junk food were good for her, but I don't believe it. You're welcome to believe otherwise :)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 6:10 PM on November 14, 2013


Unlike physical trials, which can actually kill us, emotionally, we always eventually bounce back though it may take a lifetime or longer.

If this were true, there would be no suicide (well, excepting self-euthanasia... maybe).
posted by sparklemotion at 6:11 PM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


We're talking about the emotional trial of seeing one's past mistakes, something which will happen in the long run regardless. You're talking about "suicide" and someone mentioned "soldiers coming back from war or people who have been abused by loved ones". I'm sure that KillerMartini is not going to kill herself or develop PTSD if she decides that smoking was a mistake.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 6:20 PM on November 14, 2013


I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don't pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It's not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn't that I blow five bucks at Wendy's.

I originally misread the article title as in some way implying poverty is caused by terrible decisions, so I spent the first third or so in a huff but I read it anyway. When I got to this particular section my stomach dropped a bit since it looks like my own thoughts. I am very happy to be at a particular point in my life where I am both content and in poverty. I will never not be poor in this system of things but for the past year I've actually been pretty grateful for the stability of my budget, no matter how small.

Long before I got to this point, when I still lived with my parents (who are poor, and the only reason I can be on my own now is section eight), I frequently questioned why, why are we so poor, what are we doing? We must be doing something. My brother worked his tail off and decided not to get diagnosed or medicated for the mental illness that's brought me down, trying to stay ahead of his brain. He is not poor; he makes over a hundred grand a year and living in Philly that goes farther than it might elsewhere. He constantly asked why our parents struggled so much and I didn't have the answers for him. He judged our purchases and spending habits. Don't get me wrong, in times of great need he still helped out, maybe once a year or so, but the rest of the time it was on me. And I couldn't answer his questions but I knew that we couldn't do better. We just survived.

When the mortgage assistance/forgiveness program got up and running a couple years ago I had to fill out the paperwork for my parents and that meant figuring out where every dollar was going. And I finally saw it. My mother got 800 a month in Social Security and 750 went to medical expenses. There was no way around it or out of it. The 20 bucks she spent every other month to get her nails done was not the cause of our troubles. Even when she spent everything of hers and my father's in a manic state and we had to get payday loans which set us all back for months, that wasn't the cause (although it would have helped if she could have seen a doctor before it got that bad, but it was too expensive to see her psychiatrist is what she kept saying). And it wasn't because of the times I just wasn't up to cooking dinner and spent $30 ordering food (with leftovers lasting for days). Although we used to think that was it, we spent too much eating out. Nobody's spending habits, no matter how "crazy" or irresponsible could have done anything to make that $750 any better.
posted by Danila at 6:56 PM on November 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


Looking over what I said I hope it doesn't sound defeatist. To me it just sounds realistic just like the article. What helped with the medical expenses was her finally qualifying for Medicaid (and with it, premium-free Medicare) after years and years of trying. So basically, expanded social safety net. Or simply...more money we ourselves had no means to create. It just didn't matter how much judgment we threw at ourselves or how many arguments over whether or not the bipolar person with chronic pain needs to find the spoons to cook another dinner or be "irresponsible" and order out again.

I resent when people say poor people don't know how to make decisions. I take it personally. It doesn't mean there isn't truth to the whole short-term versus long-term thinking stuff. I still buck against any implication of moral judgment and I also get ticked sometimes when people say we are ignorant or just need to be educated on how to do things better. It still won't make you not poor. More money will help. We live in a system that thrives on having an underclass. A hundred fifty years ago people like my family would have been working for free and far too many in this country still don't any offers get much better than that.
posted by Danila at 7:08 PM on November 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


[Ok, a couple comments deleted; everybody, let's please drop this derail about esprit de l'escalier's views on personal improvement. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:31 PM on November 14, 2013


> Having two kids when you're living hand to mouth makes you more likely to remain poor.

Yes, that's how fucked up things are: Being able to have a family is itself a privilege. Birds do it bees do it, but you, you irresponisible human you better have agoodjobanicehousea401ka529healthinsurancelifeinsurancelegalinsuranceinsuranceinsurancedaycareblahblahblablah or bad, bad things.

In that light, for anyone who starts with little or nothing (which is to say, most of us, really) if you wait until you have enough to be a good parent, you will never be a parent.

I started getting over the worst of my libertarian tendencies when I realized this. The possibly unfortunate flipside is that it gives me some sympathy for the pro-life worldview. I know, I know. Try not to judge me, I'm just sayin'.
posted by one weird trick at 2:25 AM on November 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Do we really have to do this thing again where every time there's an article about a poor person, some jackass explains how they would not make the same decisions that the poor person made, and then we argue about that for 400 comments?

Apparently so. Living without running water for 24 hours was more fun than reading some of esprit's comments in this thread.

But to those who participated in good faith, thank you. Reading this kept my mind off my issues for two days and helped me understand the motivations of my own husband. There is definitely an "Us" and a "Them" in this country; the dichotomy exists in this very thread.


Must be nice up there.


QFMFT.

I will comfort myself with the fact that it's payday... and for the 'working poor' at least, it's the chance to have one or two nice things, pay part of a bill, or --gasp-- buy a goddamned pack of cigarettes before the money is gone again.
posted by polly_dactyl at 5:29 AM on November 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


In trying to understand "them" a little better, research into just world fallacy. Something I've noticed about victim blamers is that they tend to have high levels of magical thinking or new age "wisdom" that is not really compatible with science. They tend to make sweeping statements about life that are not verified by actual evidence such as
"You can survive anything if you just believe!"
"If you try you will succeed at anything!"
"Believe in yourself and you can heal any illness within you!"
"Love can solve any problem!"
"If you try hard enough, any problem you have can be solved!"

These statements are comforting and they have been associated with higher locus of control and better mental health. They really do serve the person having them in many ways and have a positive effect on decision making and well being. Ignorance/delusion is bliss, literally.

When applied to others however, people with these beliefs tend to be more interested in victim blaming, more willing to blame people with poverty or illness for being poor or ill, and things like this:
"Stronger belief in a just world has also been found to correlate with greater derogation of AIDS victims."

Clinging to the just world fallacy may have positive effects on well being.

What's more beliefs in a harsh judgmental god can literally damage the health of ill people-
"A diverse sample of HIVseropositive participants (N = 101) undergoing comprehensive psychological assessment and blood draws over the course of 4 years completed the View of God Inventory with subscales measuring Positive View (benevolent/forgiving) and Negative View of God (harsh/judgmental/punishing). Adjusting for initial disease status, age, gender, ethnicity, education, and antiretroviral medication (at every 6-month visit), a Positive View of God predicted significantly slower disease-progression (better preservation of CD4-cells, better control of VL), whereas a Negative View of God predicted faster disease-progression over 4 years"

I point this out to say; shoving believes on the poor that they deserve to suffer for their mistakes or were "asking for it" could literally be damaging their health on a biological level. And likely their brain functioning and ability to do anything but try to escape the pain.

If your magical thinking is hurting other people, and literally damaging their health, might be time to challenge it a bit.

There's a whole lot of interesting research on how just world hypothesis contributes to entrenched systemic poverty, deliberately removing support services for those will illness, disability, joblessness, homelessness- permitting higher levels of human rights abuses and viewing such policies favorably and I wish I had time to write a research paper on it and condense it into a paragraph with links but I just don't right now.

I just wanted to bring this up so that anyone trying to understand why some people can cling to these beliefs so strongly might have a starting point if they want to get more saavy in understanding this phenomenon, it's harm to vulnerable human beings, and potential solutions for reducing the amount of harm people with such beliefs carry out on people around them.
posted by xarnop at 6:27 AM on November 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


To be clear. Poor often doesn't mean "currently have very little money," but instead means, "don't have enough resources to survive and may not for the foreseeable future." The constant scramble to make a life in a context of scarcity doesn't look like a middle class life. At all. I've never been that kind of poor, but have had the opportunity through my research work to see it up close. Walking a mile in those shoes would break me.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:50 AM on November 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Repudiating fatalism is neither "magical thinking" nor "victim blaming" nor a "just world hypothesis" nor an expression superiority. I can understand why someone would be drawn to it in the short term, but I think you'll find that Barbara was right about taking hits and bouncing back. It would be better instead of imagining awful things I might be saying if you considered the things I'm actually saying or else we're both wasting our time…

I could not have been more clear: Let us without judgement trace the contours of our past experiences, but let us imagine a new future free from old tribulations.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:14 AM on November 15, 2013


esprit that comment wasn't specifically about you, unless you think the shoe fits, but about a phenomenon going on in many people's hatred and judgement of the original writer and use of her faults to blame her for her suffering or poverty. I think we're moving on from just discussing you?
posted by xarnop at 11:26 AM on November 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ha, of course… ;)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:35 AM on November 15, 2013


Let us without judgement trace the contours of our past experiences, but let us imagine a new future free from old tribulations.

She's saying that her tribulation is systemic economic inequality, though. I think she makes a strong case.
posted by rue72 at 3:40 PM on November 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


> In SUNLIGHT JR., which comes out this week, Naomi Watts plays a member of the working poor

Ohmigod poor people are so pretty why don't they quit the 7/11 and become models.
posted by Monochrome at 9:05 AM on November 16, 2013


I was reading Go Tell It on the Mountain yesterday, and a quote jumped out at me:

"... He desires to enter the Public Library but he is apprehensive as he had never gone in because the building was so big that it must be full of corridors and marble steps in the maze of which he would be lost and never find the book he wanted. And then everyone, all the white people inside, would know that he was not used to great buildings, or to many books, and they would look at him with pity."

It's exactly the same sentiment as:

"...most poor people will never set foot on a college campus. We don't belong there."

It really hurts to see society blindly repeating the same mistakes. And when you can draw a comparison of someone's life today to life in Harlem in the 50's you know something's gone very wrong.
posted by Ned G at 3:52 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


sparklemotion: "By this logic, there's nothing wrong with assuming that poor people are stupid (unless you're one of the enlightened who have read this article (or Scalzi's, or John Cheese's))."

If you see a specific poor person doing something stupid, no it's not a bad assumption to make. It would be kinder of you to think on it a bit further and understand that there may be motivations and circumstances that you are not privy to, but it is not required. If you generalize that one person's behavior to the entire class of poor people, however, you're making yourself look like a smug asshole. Same as if you generalized the unfortunate behavior of a single rich person to the entire class of rich people, at least in principle.

In reality, your disapproval means nothing at all to the rich person because you have zero power over them, while it means a lot to the poor person because you (as a part of the group allowed to vote in this country) wield incredible power over them with your votes for/against social welfare of various sorts. And yes, your vote really does count at the state and local level, where much of the last line of defense against homelessness and starvation is funded.
posted by wierdo at 1:54 PM on November 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Don't get me wrong, I think smoking's a bad idea and I'm glad I quit but non-smokers still sometimes remind me of that Bill Hicks line — (paraphrased) "You know why I don't quit smoking? Because I'm afraid I'll turn into one of you!

I love this. Its so true.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:56 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am an inveterate believer that wealth should be thoughtfully and consistently be redistributed to the professional/middle/working class, that there should be a living wage and universal healthcare should be policy. But I also believe that alcohol/drug abuse, early/unwanted/multiple pregnancies, low expectations and other short term (though rational) counterproductive behaviors that reinforce poverty should be challenged.

The way we should challenge these behaviors is by offering alternatives and help, not laying down blanket judgments on people's lives.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:30 PM on November 22, 2013


I'm so sorry I missed this when it was originally posted. I'm late to add my two cents.

I am not poor anymore, though I grew up poor. I worked hard and I made smart choices, but for every time I made a smart choice I made a dumb choice at some other time. For all the hard work I did, I did just as much stupid shit. I'm fucking human, that's how we roll. All of us. No one is a goddamn Saint. I'm not poor anymore because I got lucky. Someday I may be poor again. It could happen.

I often work with folks who are very, very poor. The other day I overheard a conversation where one guy was enthusiastically suggesting to another guy that he volunteer as a medical guinea pig for money. Others chimed in about how great this was. You volunteer to take a bunch of drugs as yet untested on humans, you live out the length of the study (usually a week or so) at the hospital eating only what they give you, sleeping only when they say sleep, exercising only if they say exercise. You submit to whatever weird, intrusive tests they want to conduct on you and in return you get a sum of money that is usually more than you make in a month, plus you get to have "a vacation" (their words not mine) and play all the video games you want.

If that doesn't boggle your mind than you are truly poor. If that sounds shocking, you, like me, are not poor and therefore have NO RIGHT to pass judgement on the choices poor people make. No right at all.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:51 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


It looks like she is not as poor as she said she was. Or maybe not poor at all.
posted by amapolaroja at 12:48 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


A response.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:21 PM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Collecting $60000 in donations over her fictional article is the height of disingenuous greed. What a despicable woman.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:28 PM on November 30, 2013


are not poor and therefore have NO RIGHT to pass judgement on the choices poor people make

No, you're wrong about this. No one has any right to pass judgement on anyone else. But everyone has a right to pass judgment on their actions. Exposing misbehaviour to sunlight is the mechanism for change. Would you make the same silly argument for infidelity, corruption, or more awful things I'll leave you to imagine? Of course not.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:32 PM on November 30, 2013


.... Or maybe not poor at all.

The assumption here is that one must be poor all the time to have the right to write about being poor?
posted by _paegan_ at 5:04 PM on November 30, 2013


No one has any right to pass judgement on anyone else. But everyone has a right to pass judgment on their actions. ... Would you make the same silly argument for infidelity, corruption, or more awful things I'll leave you to imagine?

You might want to clarify your argument here because this sounds a lot like you're equating being poor to a character flaw. Also you literally just called the author of this piece a "despicable woman," which sounds like passing judgement on someone else to me.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:10 PM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


People thought she was writing about her experience being poor right now and they donated money to help her out. It turns out that what she wrote probably is partially true but also not completely her own story and people are feeling scammed.

The more writers embellish, the more people distrust what they read. Then when a true story of hardship comes along, it is more easily dismissed as more of the same.
posted by amapolaroja at 5:37 PM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


People were suggesting that it was unfair to judge the smoking and junk food eating of others. No one is judging her poverty.

It's hard to imagine how she can justify keeping the money while silently removing evidence of her drive to collect $100k. Maybe I went too far in judging her as a person. It does seem ridiculously greedy, disingenuous, and the removal of evidence seems cowardly. If you feel like you've been fair, have the courage to stand by it.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 5:38 PM on November 30, 2013


amapolaroja: "It looks like she is not as poor as she said she was. Or maybe not poor at all."

Shit. Next you'll tell us she never even started smoking, right?
posted by pwnguin at 7:13 PM on November 30, 2013


A scammer is a scammer. She portrayed herself as having all of these conditions, and now it comes out that "I am telling these stories. Some are mine, some are things I have seen." (Also, if she's married to a Marine, she has excellent insurance - active duty Tricare Prime, which covers dental fixes. I suspect that is already dealt with.)

Also, treating money people are giving you because they think you are desperately poor as "I am familiar with the concept of grants, and if people are determined, I would be remarkably stupid to turn it down" is why more and more people turn away from charity as time goes on.
posted by corb at 8:05 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The assumption here is that one must be poor all the time to have the right to write about being poor?

Yeah, time to put the shame on MeFi's Own jscalzi too... but then again, he didn't write his piece to raise money... at least, not for himself.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:14 PM on December 2, 2013


A Crowd-Sourced Escape From Poverty?
posted by homunculus at 1:44 PM on December 5, 2013


Is This What You Want? Author Of Viral Poverty Piece Takes Out Teeth To Prove Her Story
posted by homunculus at 1:47 PM on December 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Wow, that smear job is nearly as depressing as the original essay. Sometimes, people transcend politics, and not in a good way. They end up saying incredibly disgusting things about people who aren't even part of their fucking game because god forbid that one example of the left behind (or temporarily left behind, in some cases) be allowed to be told. Sometimes I wonder about people's humanity. Sometimes doing your job can take the form of exercising discretion.
posted by wierdo at 2:35 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


homunculus: "Is This What You Want? Author Of Viral Poverty Piece Takes Out Teeth To Prove Her Story"

It's Graeme Frost's granite countertops all over again.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:37 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can just imagine Malkin stalking Tirado and trying to peek into her mouth.
posted by homunculus at 2:48 PM on December 5, 2013


Ok, I watched the video in homunculus's link, 'Is This What You Want? Author Of Viral Poverty Piece Takes Out Teeth To Prove Her Story'...

It's not just, here my mouth, here's some proof, you fucktards. It's a long video explaining how it comes to this, how this situation happened to her, how dental care is treated (in the US), and what the social cost is.

I cried.


I'm so, so glad I'm not in the US, because I'm in a country with health care, but we don't have national dental. If you aren't a child, and it's not emergency (ie they'll pull teeth, they won't do root canals), and it's not a recent accident (unfortunately ACC can screw you over) dental is not covered.

If you have been in a car accident. Hit your jaw. Been punched in the mouth.
These things often cause hairline fractures in your teeth. And that's it. Now you're on a countdown. It may take years, and if you're really lucky, it may be decades, and eventually that fracture will get wide enough that you get bacterial infection to the nerve, the root, and then your teeth will die.
If you can afford a root canal, at least you can keep your teeth in your mouth, but you all know how much a root canal costs per tooth. And if you took a bad blow, you may have cracks in half your mouth.

If you cannot afford a root canal, all they can do is pull your tooth. If you hang on, til the last minute, hoping you can get the cash together for a root canal, and not just have a MISSING TOOTH, the infection will spread to the nearby healthy teeth, and again, it may take a few years, but those teeth are gonners. If you have too many fucked teeth, they can't put a false tooth in, because it needs something to hold on to.

And the reason those cracks happen is often heartbreaking. When you see women in their 40s, who have been out of an abusive relationship for more than a decade, but they are still paying for it, with their dying teeth.

My Mum has luckily had them fail with enough time spaced between them that she's slowly been able to get root canals one at a time.

My sister's exboyfriend has less than 8 teeth in his mouth, from being punched in the mouth a few times when he was younger, and not knowing what to do about it. When one gets too painful, he goes to A&E to have another pulled, because trying to get that shit sorted is beyond him. He's a fuckup, but it's still fucking heartbreaking.


My teeth are healthy, but I really needed braces (I've had 4+2 teeth out so they'll fit in my mouth). And I am so grateful that my mother made that happen. It's just another of those subtle little things that, even here, in a far more equitable country, means people don't code me as being from a lower class background, when I know, if I'd had mouth of munted teeth, they would. I have the kinds of jobs where I could pay for it as an adult, but there's that niggling worry, would it have affected my ability to get those jobs? To basically talk my way in to them, as a confident, smart, educated seeming person? I have a great smile.
Thanks Mum.
posted by Elysum at 6:15 PM on December 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


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