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Double Nickelled & Dimed
February 15, 2008 2:13 PM   Subscribe

"In a test of the American Dream, Adam Shepard started life from scratch with the clothes on his back and twenty-five dollars. Ten months later, he had an apartment, a car, and a small savings." Introduction to the book which arose from his "journey", which was inspired by Barbara Ehrenreich.

A comment from a homelessness blog, and a timely counterpoint video from al Jazeera. Why are people homeless (PDF)? Shephard can be hired as a public speaker if you would like to know more about this research.

Also, an audio interview with Ehrenreich and the first chapter of her book.
posted by Rumple (243 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'd say that's quite a misleading use of 'started life'.
posted by pica at 2:21 PM on February 15, 2008 [11 favorites]


Someday, I hope people will learn that generalizations can't be inferred from a) single events and b) anecdotes.

So this kid was successful. Does that mean all poor people are just lazy and he's the living proof? Hell, no.

Do Ehrenreich's experiences mean that poor people can't get ahead no matter how hard they try? Hell, no.

I like your Why link.
posted by nzero at 2:22 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, what pica said. This kid self selected from a background that, presumably, inspired in him confidence that he would succeed. His patronizing attitude is pretty infuriating.
posted by nzero at 2:23 PM on February 15, 2008


Yep. Handsome straight white guys from great backgrounds can get ahead in America.

Color me shocked.
posted by MrVisible at 2:28 PM on February 15, 2008 [14 favorites]


He still had a credit card in his back pocket in case of "emergencies."

FAIL
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 2:28 PM on February 15, 2008 [11 favorites]


A case of self promotion to sell a book.. I really don't like this guy, and his situation proves NOTHING!
posted by HuronBob at 2:33 PM on February 15, 2008


hm. I'm curious to see how this is used to grind various political axes.

Admittedly, I'm just prejudiced because of this: Shortly after graduation – with almost literally $25 to his name..
posted by dubold at 2:34 PM on February 15, 2008


When I saw this earlier, I considered posting it as a response to this AskMe...
posted by anazgnos at 2:35 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, otoh, having been at low ebb myself earlier in life I have seen plenty of people wasting money on cigarrettes and feeding food stamp groceries to worthless boyfriends who conveniently leave when the larder is empty.
posted by konolia at 2:35 PM on February 15, 2008


I didn't use my college education, credit history, or contacts [while in South Carolina]. But in real life, I had these lessons that I had learned. I don't think that played to my advantage.

He doesn't think it played to his advantage? Really? So all poor people need to do is bootstrap themselves up. And if they don't it must mean that they like being poor - not that there are other barriers to getting out of poverty - right?

I find the idea that he thinks he was able to discard the advantages of his upbringing as simply as he did his clothes and belongings pathetic and absurd.
posted by rtha at 2:37 PM on February 15, 2008 [7 favorites]


"Shepard found he was able to successfully climb out of his self-imposed poverty."

That's what makes real poverty so soul-crushing. It's not self-imposed (at least, not in the ways that he seems to think).

It's sort of like how learning you're pregnant gets different reactions based on whether you were actually trying to conceive. The reactions of everyone around you change based on that too.
posted by hermitosis at 2:39 PM on February 15, 2008 [6 favorites]


What an asshole. He didn't start out "from scratch." He had a family willing to pony up for four years at an expensive private college.

If there's a lesson here, it's that our bottom-tier colleges are turning out sheltered, uneducated students who lack both intellect and empathy.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 2:40 PM on February 15, 2008 [9 favorites]


A former college athlete with a bachelor's degree, Mr. Shepard had left a comfortable life with supportive parents in Raleigh, N.C. Now he was an outsider on the wrong side of the tracks in Charles­ton, S.C....To make his quest even more challenging, he decided not to use any of his previous contacts or mention his education.

Sorry, no. The purpose of education is not to get you contacts or to get your ticket punched. This is precisely what education is not. This is simply a test of whether someone raised as a driven, bright, educated person, can start with no money and end up with some money.

Money money money. Money is the objective. Whoever dies with the most money wins. The kid began his experiment with a huge endowment: his background and upbringing. He did not start with nothing.

Here's a better test -how many poor 7-yr old kids from the slums of any major american city from dysfunctional families and bounced from one lousy city public school to another are going to end up as a "former college athlete with a bachelor's degree"?

The answer to this question is: almost none. I don't need a well-bred privileged kid to prove something when there are millions in the streets proving the opposite. "What ordinary American's can achieve"? Do ordinary americans start life as graduates from private colleges? I want to call this kid an idiot, but he's not, he's a fucking puppet. A pawn. I can actually picture people reading this story and nodding their heads, thinking, "See, they're just lazy, they want a handout." This is clearly timed to rally the goddamn right wing in time for the election. Get ready to learn about how Obama is a socialist. Get ready to hear the 1984 republican playbook.

This story is a fucking insult to my intelligence. Forget the slums (everyone else already has). Go to small rural towns in any state. Open your Christ-forsaken eyes and look around at how people live, how they're struggling. Go ask someone who make $25,000 a year and has to pay triple for gas and power about the American dream.

Who the hell is promoting this pigshit? Who is behind this? Tell me it's some right wing group or thinktank. I can stomach that, I can understand that. But please don't tell me the that people have become so willfully ignorant and blissfully oblivious to the plight of their fellow man that they are coming up with this shit on their own. Goddamn it.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:42 PM on February 15, 2008 [124 favorites]


I found Ehrenreich's book a poor analysis; my guess is that this is just more of the same: untenable conclusions, drawn from a charmed vantage point, written up quickly to make a profit. It only makes me wish I'd thought of it first—it's a great moneymaking scheme.

1. Brief homeless stint, with a fallback family home, college education and credit card in the back pocket.
2. Regular entry-level, blue-collar job, like the majority of his peers would already have been forced to take upon graduating with their liberal arts degrees.
3. Write a book about entry-level, blue-collar trajectory as though it's a major accomplishment.
4. Profit!

I hate people my age...
posted by limeonaire at 2:45 PM on February 15, 2008


If anything, I think this is an argument for socialism. Because there wasn't any real danger in his situation--he had his credit card, and a decent life to return to--he didn't spend all day worrying and feeling panicky and trapped. This freed him to work at getting a job and getting his shit together. If the social safety net was more secure, people on the edges of poverty could dig themselves out.

Not having any idea how the bills are going to get paid is just about the worst feeling I've ever had in my life.
posted by Nahum Tate at 2:46 PM on February 15, 2008 [28 favorites]


Rent a flat above a shop
Cut your hair and get a job
Smoke some fags and play some pool
Pretend you never went to school
But still you'll never get it right
'cos when you're laid in bed at night
watching roaches climb the wall
if you called your dad he could stop it all
yeah
You'll never live like common people
You'll never do whatever common people do
You'll never fail like common people
You'll never watch your life slide out of view
and then dance and drink and screw
because there's nothing else to do


(I accidentally posted this to the Bull Poker thread, and now am a little embarrassed.)
posted by Navelgazer at 2:47 PM on February 15, 2008 [24 favorites]


Shepard's You-Tube clip; and a three part video interview 1, 2, 3
posted by Rumple at 2:47 PM on February 15, 2008


I'm stunned but perhaps I shouldn't be, that the immediate reaction here is that this cannot serve as any kind of an example for anyone. Nobody but a pampered, educated kid could possibly do this. If you're poor and unhappy, it is never the result of your choices in life.

Pfft.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:48 PM on February 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


When did the American Dream become working for a moving company and owning a pickup truck?
posted by Nahum Tate at 2:48 PM on February 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Not to say that there's nothing useful to be gained from this type of experience, but it does seem a little ridiculous to use social services (like the shelter) that are already stretched to the limit when you don't really need to.

A friend of mine and I contemplated doing something similar (for a shorter period of time) during a winter in which I was laid off anyway, but looking at how inadequate the services already were it seemed like two guys taking beds when we had an apartment was a bad idea. Admittedly, we also figured it might get our asses kicked if anyone found out...
posted by rollbiz at 2:48 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


The guy had a mission from the outset. He knew if it didn't work he would still have a home, good education and future prospects. I bet growing up into poverty is a hell of a lot harder to get out off than this fella purposely putting himself in that situation.

He proved with the right mindset, yes, it's possible. But having a college education suggests he is already pretty intelligent. Not saying that people in poverty are stupid but they didn't necessarily have the chances to be as educated as him.

Also, the fact he thought his made up back story was "great" makes him a bit of a dick in my eyes. Try living a childhood as awful as that before pretending you had one asshole. Then see how the future looks.
posted by twistedonion at 2:50 PM on February 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think it's an interesting datapoint. Not every experiment needs to draw Shocking! New! Conclusions! about the human condition/poverty in America/whatever all by itself.
posted by Skorgu at 2:50 PM on February 15, 2008


Libertarian philosophy in a nutshell.
posted by srboisvert at 2:53 PM on February 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Let me guess... the cracker was white and educated? Earning back what you already once earned ain't the same thing as earning it from nothing at all.

D-
posted by three blind mice at 2:54 PM on February 15, 2008


When did the American Dream become working for a moving company and owning a pickup truck?

Excellent point. This kid really only managed to do what many people without his background have been able to do to: Get a barely making it job, share an apartment with a violent roomate, get a shitty truck...That's a looooong way from what I'd consider to be the American Dream.
posted by rollbiz at 2:56 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


konolia: "Well, otoh, having been at low ebb myself earlier in life I have seen plenty of people wasting money on cigarettes and feeding food stamp groceries to worthless boyfriends who conveniently leave when the larder is empty."

You're right, I've seen that too but people without good educations and/or role models often have no idea even how to start getting out their hole. I think that a point that people here are making is that this guy starting out knowing that he shouldn't throw away his money on smokes and lottery tickets or the hundred other ways that you can defeat yourself. That gave him huge head start on someone who has grown up poor.
posted by octothorpe at 2:57 PM on February 15, 2008


If you're poor and unhappy, it is never the result of your choices in life.
Pfft.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:48 PM on February 15


If you are born into it, and you are still a kid, no it's not about your choices.

And when it is a result of your choices, you fall harder. On drugs at 15 and parents are well-off? Rehab. On drugs at 15 and dad is who knows where and mom barely pays the rent? Prison. There is no parity in consequences. In other words, where you end up to a great degree on where you start.

Finally, there are people who made good choices and they are still struggling. And there are people who made bad choices and they don't suffer the consequences. In other words, this little test case here proves precisely nothing.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:57 PM on February 15, 2008 [14 favorites]


So here we are. Most of us American college college graduates (or working to that end) - if not with graduate degrees. Privileged. Middle class. Maybe upper middle class.

And most our grandparents and at least great grandparents were not.

I don't about the subject of this post in particular but clearly the uncontrollable curcumstances of poverty are not to be blamed for every life failure.
posted by tkchrist at 3:02 PM on February 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


er. "I don't know about..."
posted by tkchrist at 3:04 PM on February 15, 2008


srboisvert:
Libertarian philosophy in a nutshell


Exactly, and this is what frustrates me so much about it. The point that the libertarian mindset looks to in cases like this is that all the public infrastructure isn't necessary, when what this kid managed to do relied entirely on the good public infrastructure in place.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:05 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


I was never tempted. I had a credit card in my back pocket in case of an emergency. The rule was if I used the credit card then, "The project's over, I'm going home."
Yawn. Plus, he gave up when someone his family got sick. How would he have felt if that person didn't have health insurance and he had to pay their medical bills. I guess he would have been fucked right proper. And his family member might have simply died, or maybe something else would have happened. Depends on the disease I guess.

Also, it's not like Barbara Ehrenreich wasn't able to pay her bills.
posted by delmoi at 3:05 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think that a point that people here are making is that this guy starting out knowing that he shouldn't throw away his money on smokes and lottery tickets or the hundred other ways that you can defeat yourself.

That's a little condescending.
posted by enn at 3:06 PM on February 15, 2008


Black College-Educated With An Emergency Credit Card Like Me.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 3:07 PM on February 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


So here we are. Most of us American college college graduates (or working to that end) - if not with graduate degrees. Privileged. Middle class. Maybe upper middle class.

And most our grandparents and at least great grandparents were not.

I guess he should stick with his job and truck, then, and we'll see how his grandkids turn out.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:07 PM on February 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: I absolutely agree. This guy's story can certainly serve as an example; it's also certainly true that one's choices in life, independent of circumstance, can lead to poverty and unhappiness.

That said, the whole thing, coming from someone who graduated with a business degree, no less, just smacks of a moneymaking/publicity scheme. Just think what this will do for this kid's resume!

As someone who graduated at the same time this guy did, with only $775 more to my name at the time, I'm mostly just jealous of the idea. He started out at about the same place a lot of kids my age do upon graduating, but had the brilliant idea to write a book about the process.

What I'm not jealous of is the neck-wringing this kid's gonna get on forums like this and in the media. Great idea, less-than-ideal execution.

Ah well. Maybe I should write a book about how I outfitted my apartment in fine style with pieces largely found dumpster-diving or given to me for free... that could give me a good return on my respective investment of two post-college years of blue-collar toiling, right?
posted by limeonaire at 3:09 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


This proves nothing except that any harebrained idea can make you money. It is by doing exactly that he's living the American Dream.
posted by flippant at 3:12 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


A little?
posted by absalom at 3:12 PM on February 15, 2008


Plus, he gave up when someone his family got sick.

In other words, he gave the moment real life intruded on his juvenile fantasy. Which is exactly where the real experiment BEGINS for most people.

Barbara E. gets a lot of nagging criticism, but her project was interesting and well-written. In fact, the reason why that book is so beloved is because she clearly articulates the reality of others' experiences, not just hers. Because she has talent, she pulled it off.

This guy won't know what he has or doesn't have until he discovers he doesn't have it anymore.
posted by hermitosis at 3:13 PM on February 15, 2008 [9 favorites]


Ten months into the experiment, he decided to quit after learning of an illness in his family.

I'm kinda guessing that an American poor persons illness in the family is a hell of a lot different from a rich persons illness in the family.
posted by Artw at 3:27 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


What a smug, self-satisfied, privileged piece of shit.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:28 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


In a test mockery of the American Dream...
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 3:31 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


This is the part that got me:

Would your project have changed if you'd had child-care payments or been required to report to a probation officer? Wouldn't that have made it much harder?

The question isn't whether I would have been able to succeed. I think it's the attitude that I take in: "I've got child care. I've got a probation officer. I've got all these bills. Now what am I going to do? Am I going to continue to go out to eat and put rims on my Cadillac? Or am I going to make some things happen in my life...?"


Oh, really? The fact that this kid is college educated, healthy, athletic, and doesn't carry any of the burdens that members the underclass often do is totally brushed aside with this bullshit about how his positive attitude make the world go 'round. The fact is, he doesn't have a probation officer, or child-care payments, or hepatitis, or an abusive family, etc.

Fuck 23 year old white pretty-boy children of privilege telling people how easy it is.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 3:34 PM on February 15, 2008 [10 favorites]


he didn't spend all day worrying and feeling panicky and trapped

More than that, he could take all kinds of small everyday chances that he otherwise couldn't if he had no risk cushion at all.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:34 PM on February 15, 2008 [6 favorites]


Calling himself an outsider from the wrong side of the tracks is a bit like saying he summers in the wrong part of the Hamptons. 'Cuz... that kid don't know a thing about the reality of being born truly impoverished. It was a novelty for him, a little project, and he knew he could rise out of it any time he chose. People who are truly born on the wrong side of the tracks have to face a hell of a lot more hopelessness than he will (hopefully) ever know. It's not a game.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:42 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


When did the American Dream become working for a moving company and owning a pickup truck?

There's been a couple of times in my life when I dreamed of that. And I'm not even american.
posted by monkeymike at 3:44 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Rims on his Cadillac?

Fuck that guy, seconded.
posted by box at 3:45 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


report to a probation officer

You know what's really fucked up? Parole/probation is apparently more and more often privatized. You have to pay a fee for the company's services. If you don't have the cash, you fail and go to jail.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:46 PM on February 15, 2008


He made himself situationally poor and got out of it. Ok, that's fine.

The problem is that there is a substantive difference between situational poverty and generational poverty. People who grow up in the cycle of poverty have a whole different set of rules to live by and do not understand the rules of school and work (i.e. middle-class rules) unless someone mentors them into it. In general, they try to fit into the work world without learning those rules, and they generally get "given up on" when they repeatedly fail to fit in. So he doesn't really serve as an example of how a poor person can "make it".

For reference on the hidden rules of poverty vs. the middle class, see Ruby Payne's work.
posted by lleachie at 3:46 PM on February 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


The only more irritating person might be the Starbucks guy.

Apologies for linking to Amazon, but linking to Amazon is a drop in the bucket besides the Starbucks guy's gall.
posted by bad grammar at 3:52 PM on February 15, 2008


Parole/probation is apparently more and more often privatized. You have to pay a fee for the company's services. If you don't have the cash, you fail and go to jail.

Not that I doubt you, but can you provide some background links on this for me, TheOnlyCoolTim? I'd be very interested in reading up on it.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:53 PM on February 15, 2008


Apologies for linking to Amazon, but linking to Amazon is a drop in the bucket besides the Starbucks guy's gall.

That's okay, I just followed the link on my Microsoft browser.
posted by Artw at 3:55 PM on February 15, 2008


So he doesn't really serve as an example of how a poor person can "make it".

I agree. This kid is really nobodies direct example.

But my great grandparents were in generational poverty. And I mean they had literally nothing. As were the great grandparents of many people right here on MeFi. Yet here WE all are two or three generations later.

The nature of what IS perceived as poor and what IS perceived as successful has changed in this country. Never have our poor been so material as well as so entrenched. Our middle class is in decline but has more stuff than ever before.

The underlying problem is the service based and consumer driven economy, easy credit (and debt), regressive politics, AND a drastic change in work ethic and responsibility.
posted by tkchrist at 3:58 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


As a life experience, this would be quite useful: it's always good to see what you can do on your own, and it's a good idea to stretch yourself beyond the frame of your own experience. Rather like backpacking through South America or volunteering for the Peace Corps, or any one of a number of common post-university life experiences -- it's not a bad idea, and it might build some empathy and provide some understanding.

The "Hey! let's make it a book and sell myself as a public speaker!" aspect, though, gives me the squicks. As Hermatosis pointed out, the whole point of self-imposed poverty is that it's voluntary: by definition, you can get out of it by picking up the phone.

A logical extension of this argument is that he'd not mind, at all, if someone killed everyone he loved, stole everything they had and destroyed everything he owned, and then dumped him on the side of the road with 25 bucks, no credit card and no-one to call. He might get out of that, too -- there are scads of people in the world who emerge from refugee camps with not much more, and manage to build lives for themselves, with help. But none of them, I'd think, are writing books.
posted by jrochest at 3:59 PM on February 15, 2008


I stopped at:

And I said, "Dude, your life is completely changed." And he said, "Yeah, you're right, but I'm getting the heck out of here." Then there was this other guy
posted by swift at 4:01 PM on February 15, 2008


Feh. Young, white, well-spoken, able-bodied, literate white guy, unburdened with children or sick family members (and with, I am assuming, some social skills), can in America get a job and rent an apartment. Woot.
posted by jokeefe at 4:05 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


oh, yeah -- my grandparents immigrated to Canada as very poor uneducated laborers, who worked like hell doing the worst kind of manual labor, but managed -- thanks to a union job! -- to own a house and raise a son who won a scholarship to med school, and my mom, who married my dad, who has family money.

I only have to look at the difference between my life (comfy, middle class) and my cousins' lives (tough, working class) to see the difference that family money makes. Money *matters*, in visible and invisible ways.
posted by jrochest at 4:10 PM on February 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


I read a very nice article about this which I can't find anymore, and it seems very underreported.

Here's the contract of one company doing it.
Their FAQ states: "It costs the city nothing. Not a dime. We are an offender paid system." The city saves money, the company makes a profit, everyone wins! When someone gets sent back to prison, another company makes money running the private prison!

This one's $35 a month plus $10 per 40 hours of community service assigned, but the article I read stated they could be more. I wish I could find it.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:14 PM on February 15, 2008


rent a flat above a shop
cut your hair and get a job
smoke some fags and play some pool
pretend you never went to school
but still you'll never get it right
'cos when you're laid in bed at night
watching roaches climb the wall
if you called your dad he could stop it all yeah
posted by chrominance at 4:27 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


But she didn't understand, she just smiled and held my hand
Rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job
Smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school
But still you'll never get it right
'cos when you're laid in bed at night watching roaches climb the wall
If you call your Dad he could stop it all
You'll never live like common people
You'll never do what common people do
You'll never fail like common people
You'll never watch your life slide out of view, and dance and drink and screw
Because there's nothing else to do
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:28 PM on February 15, 2008


chrominance! You fuck.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:29 PM on February 15, 2008


Navelgazer beat you both.
posted by tkchrist at 4:31 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Actually, speaking of being white and privileged, I am surprised somebody didn't kick his white rich butt back to NC. The subculture he'd voluntarily entered really is vastly different from the world he'd voluntarily left.

Let's not be too hard on the kid. I mean, all of y'all are right-it's hard to dig out of poverty (we did it with three kids but it took years and years to do well) but there are plenty of people who put in more effort to game the system than to climb out. Fortunately I can report quite a few folks DO climb out IF THE PROPER SOCIAL SUPPORTS CAN BE FOUND. (Hopefully I don't have to turn in my Republican card for saying that. )
posted by konolia at 4:31 PM on February 15, 2008


"To see the attitudes along the way, that is what my story is about."

Perhaps his attitude would change if he were introduced to heroin, contracted AIDS and was disowned by his family?

It is simplistic to imply poverty is about attitude and then not inquire from where such attitudes arise.
An able bodied man with no mental impediments should be able to make use of the agencies in place to help someone become a productive member of society. That is precisely why those agencies exist.

A great many impoverished, homeless people suffer from mental maladies, not only addiction and dispair, but undiagnosed mental illnesses as well. The services to meet those needs are vastly underfunded.

Shepard’s experiance proves two things: the agencies that exist to help get a man, displaced by fortune, back on his feet, do work; and the invisibility of, not only the problem of the mental component of poverty, but the invisibility of the need of services for it.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 4:37 PM on February 15, 2008



Republican lawmakers and their radio propagandists will make this guy their poster-child for cutting more social services.
posted by Jay Reimenschneider at 4:42 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


/Additionally, it is indeed possible to climb out of poverty by setting a goal, having patience and sacrificing luxuries, provided one can reach the proper support services.
It is a walk in the park however compared to defeating clinical depression and the addictions which often develop in its wake.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 4:43 PM on February 15, 2008


Navelgazer beat you both.

Bloody hell. I don't understand how I missed that. Put me in the a "little embarrassed" box as well.

What Cool Papa Bell said.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:45 PM on February 15, 2008


A song, just for this guy.
posted by delmoi at 4:57 PM on February 15, 2008


How is this different from going camping?
posted by Kibbutz at 4:59 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer beat you both.

aww, I thought I'd read through the whole thread! doh!
posted by chrominance at 5:10 PM on February 15, 2008


"I didn't use my education?"

I was thrown into a similar situation when I had to decide, very suddenly, between the soft life offered by my overprotective parents and the woman I loved. P and M were sure I would never make it ("you won't be able to afford air conditioning!" is a memorable line from before the 17 years I just didn't talk to them.) There were times when I didn't know where the rent was going to come from and I didn't have a credit card in my hip pocket, nor was slinking back to P & M really an option.

I made it mainly because of my education, and I think Shepard is being a dick to not realize just how much of an advantage that gave him. He may not have used his contacts or put it on his resume but he vastly underestimates the ability to read, the ability to quickly learn and adapt, the ability to solve problems logically, the ability to express himself, and the self-confidence borne of having been rewarded for performance in his past. I frequently work with people who are a notch above homeless and they could not hope to accomplish what Shepard just did, because they do not have his considerable advantages.

(Oh, and I'm still living with her after 25 years. We finally got married a few years ago so I could get her on my company health insurance plan.)
posted by localroger at 5:10 PM on February 15, 2008 [10 favorites]


So.... he got a college education, left with no debt, got a job and... wait, why the fuck is this news? If he thinks a free college education didn't make a difference here, he's crazy. Even most middle-class people would leave a college like his with loans (and thus with -$, not +25$). What he did isn't the least bit unusual or remarkable... except he's able to spin it as being something its not, and make money off that as well. Good for him, I guess, but this is pretty meaningless to anyone but him.

Whether or not you have an official "degree" only matters in some jobs, I could have had my career without the piece of paper, maybe 1 year behind where I am now. It was the 20 years of education and support that made me successful, not a piece of paper no employer has ever bothered to look at.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:14 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


How much of a college education do you need to budget your money to a point that you're not spending frivolously, but you're instead putting your money in the bank?

Sir, many of the poor in this country are dealing with all manner of illness, both mental and physical, largely untreated. For example, I am poor. I get about $800 a month from social security disability. I am blessed to get this much because I have a work history. Most of the others I know receive SSI, a whopping $637 a month (and if a person on SSI were to by some miracle save $2500, they would no longer qualify for SSI). I'm not saving $2500 anytime soon. Even if I cut out my monthly milkshake. Shut up.

College education? How about just being able to read? Perform simple calculations? I dropped out of high school (like so many other poor black people), but before I dropped out I remember sitting in my class in one of the worst high schools in the city, and listening to the other students (the ones who didn't cut class that day) trying to read aloud from a history book. Most of them couldn't do it. They stuttered and read very haltingly, and then the teacher would just move on to the next paragraph.

They can't really read sir. And by then everyone says its too late. So they leave.

I was never tempted. I had a credit card in my back pocket in case of an emergency.


I've only ever seen one in person once. A real credit card I mean, not a debit card. Although a lot of people I know don't even have bank accounts and can't get any because of their credit. You've got one in your back pocket. Shut up.

I had this great back story on how I was escaping my druggy mom and going to live with my alcoholic dad. Things just fell apart, and there I was at the homeless shelter.


What really gets me sir, is that you don't even consider that things might be different if you actually did have a "druggy mom" and an "alcoholic dad". Not to mention you have a mom and dad. You couldn't conceive a back-story without them both, though I daresay a lot of the other people in the shelter never had one or the other. Please, please shut up. You are every stereotype of an entitled, privileged, arrogant young man.
posted by Danila at 5:21 PM on February 15, 2008 [38 favorites]


"But my great grandparents were in generational poverty. And I mean they had literally nothing. As were the great grandparents of many people right here on MeFi. Yet here WE all are two or three generations later.

The nature of what IS perceived as poor and what IS perceived as successful has changed in this country. Never have our poor been so material as well as so entrenched. Our middle class is in decline but has more stuff than ever before."

Well, and I can say that I'm doing a hell of a lot better than most of the kids I grew up with, despite having (financially) approximately the same starting point. I live a pretty good life.

But I also realize that I've had a hell of a lot of advantages and a hell of a lot of luck, and that I'm still not doing as well as other people who have had more advantages and more luck—or, to be fair, those who have either worked significantly harder or who have had different ideas about what success means (I wouldn't trade my fantastic girlfriend for more money, even though I could easily work more if I wasn't in a relationship).

And what pisses me off are people who don't understand the role of their advantages and luck, people who either assume that everyone has had it equally well or people who assume that it's all their fucking work that's got them to where they are.

Frankly, this guy sounds like one of those people.

I also believe in working hard, even though I don't necessarily need to, to remove the disadvantages that other people have, because I do feel that everyone should be able to achieve at least as much as I have.
posted by klangklangston at 5:22 PM on February 15, 2008


Oh, and PS—Folks with bad or no credit often can't get a bank account. Thank the Patriot act. I'm still trying to get AOL-related bullshit removed from my credit, some five years down the line (they billed me for someone else's service, to a bank account that should have been closed).
posted by klangklangston at 5:25 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lordy. Another able-bodied, educated white person who brings his upper-middle-class values to the exotic world of Poverty. Just like Barbara Ehrenreich. Just like all those college girls who start stripping so they can blog about it.

I hear Carnival Cruises is organizing a Cruise to Poverty for spring 08. Anyone going?
posted by grounded at 5:28 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Live like the least among us. Renounce your privileged upbringing. I think these are the guys that got it right.
posted by nax at 5:33 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've seen rich kids fail miserably in spite of every social benefit, and I've known poor people to succeed in spite of every obstacle. The idea that character doesn't have a significant role in a person's well-being (economic or otherwise) is simply wrong. I can see this as being a flawed example, but not *that* flawed. It is probably naive, but it should at least be considered. That is, how did his education or race help him get a moving job? Is it impossible to think that *some* poverty is caused by something other than being "disadvantaged?" It is easy to say "fuck the middle class kid pretending to be poor," but it kind of shuts down any reasoned response to what he did. He didn't become rich, he just got by.
posted by Raoul de Noget at 5:43 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Since when did slumming=sociology?

But then I think Tom the Dancing Bug sums up these kinds of blithe assesrtions about inequality nicely.
posted by emjaybee at 5:48 PM on February 15, 2008


You know, I did exactly this experiment when I was 22, but by accident. I moved out to Los Angeles with not enough money to get by, crashed and burned in a few weeks, ran out of money almost instantly thanks to the high cost of living out there, and moved into a shelter. I was college educated from the University of Minnesota, straight, white, good looking, healthy, and willing to work. I mention being straight, because the shelter I ran into was run by the gay/lesbian community services center of Los Angeles and was meant mostly for the multitude of gay and lesbians teenagers who moved in droves to Los Angeles, many of them coming from a background of familial violence, many of them looking forward to a future of drug abuse, sexual violence, prostitution, and early suicide, statistically speaking.

I stayed in the shelter for three months, working at a video store and saving money for my own place. And I discovered a few things. Firstly, being white, straight, and college educated helps. Everything about me betrayed my middle-class, college educated background. Sometime in subtle ways, such as the fact that I knew how to tie a tie when going to a job interview. Sometimes in much larger ways, such as being able to fill out a job application, because I was functionally literate. And in one essential way, in that I was not broken by a background of abuse. I wasn't a raw nerve of mindless defensive reactions that were guaranteed to be counterproductive. I didn't respond to stress by hitting things, or taking drugs. I didn't grow hopeless and cut my wrists in the shelter bathroom. I didn't run out of money and start hustling on Santa Monica Boulevard. I didn't test positive for HIV, which others in the shelter did, including a young man who asked me to come along when he got the result of his test, and then asked me to come along afterward as he responded to the bad news by getting as drunk as possible and giving away all his money to panhandlers. Oh, speaking of which: I wasn't an alcoholic, or addicted to drugs. I wasn't mentally ill and treating my mental illness with whatever drugs I could get hold of; here were a few in the shelter like that. Quite a few. The inventory of advantages I had over others in the shelter was enormous, too long to list here, but unavoidable. They were hurt, many of them, really hurt, and until that hurt was taken care of, a lot of them were going to have a very rough time of it.

And yet, 10 months later, I was barely making it. $6.50 an hour is not enough to get a decent apartment in a good part of town in Los Angeles, so I was living in a transitional living program run by the Teen Canteen, another program for homeless teenagers. I made just about enough money to buy food, pay my rent, and see a movie or two every week. I got into debt quickly, because there was a riot in Westwood at the opening of New Jack City, and I happened to work there, and so I got pushed to the ground and sprained my wrist. Of course, insurance covered a lot of the costs of getting x-rayed and prescribed some painkillers. But I had a $600 deductible, and that was the sort of thing it would take several months of not seeing movies and eating ramen to pay off. I got a few writing gigs, which I what I moved to LA for, but because I was a beginning writer, they paid very little or paid nothing at all. So, yes, 10 months after becoming homeless, I had an apartment, but no savings, a little bit of debt, and a car was out of the question.

And, because I was still in a program for the homeless, I saw many of the people I had been in the shelter with of the course of the year, and for several years. I felt like I was just treading water, and could slip under at any moment, but, trust me, for many of them it was much harder. One roommate slipped back into a heroin addiction, which, of course, took up all his money, and when he was kicked out of the program ran to the kitchen to find a kitchen knife to kill himself with. He didn't find one, because I had hidden them under the sofa the night before, as he had attempted to kill himself previously and I knew he was getting forced to leave. Some dealt with naked, open homophobia on whatever jobs they worked at -- at least one I remember got beaten up by his coworkers. Some did all right. After all, a job? An Apartment? Those things can be found. But where would they be in ten years, and where would I be?

A decade later I was the editor in chief of an Omaha newsweekly, and a playwright with work produced in New York. I attribute both those things to my education, because both are based on having certain writing skills, and a certain discipline. I don't know what happened to the others. The fellow who was HIV positive seems likely to be dead. Homeless and HIV positive is pretty fatal. Others? Well, I know plenty of people my age who are not gay, formerly homeless, emotionally ill, and drug addicted who are just barely making it. It's pretty easy to get lost in the country. Hell, it's 10 years since I was editor in chief, or nearly, and I've had some real lows since then. And the only people who wouldn't know that this is an unstable place, and it's easy to get knocked off your perch by, say, a hurricane destroying your town, or an unexpected illness, or schizophrenia kicking in at 26, or a million of other miserable things that can happen in the course of your life, and you have no control over -- well, the only people who would think that are excessively privileged children without much life experience who jump into homelessness as a sort of dilettante prank, and learn nothing from it except that it is possible to pull yourself back up to some low-level, depressing baseline pretty quickly. That's not much of a lesson, and it certainly doesn't mean that anyone can be a CEO of a fortune 500 company years down the road if, gosh darn it, they just had the elbow grease to make a go of it in this wonderful nation of ours.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:50 PM on February 15, 2008 [135 favorites]


I work with a non profit that has a mission to help alleviate hunger and poverty. I was in eastern Pennsylvania recently and visited a church that was feeding people a hot meal. It was noon on a Wednesday. There were over a hundred people in line for lunch. I was invited in, by the facilitator and asked to share a meal with her community. We sat and ate a simple meal of salad and pasta with bread and juice. Midway through the meal, the facilitator stood up and made an announcement: it was someone's birthday. "We won't say how old you are..." and turned toward a beaming woman who was seated with her husband. The crowd sang happy birthday to her. When the facilitator came back and sat down, she turned to me and said "they just celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary." That hit me like a punch in the gut. This could be me. This could be any of my family. What kind of society would treat those who built the society like this? I could see their happiness but I knew their fear: if this kitchen closes we will have nowhere to go.

Poverty, as stated eloquently by many people above, is not how the folks have politically framed it to be. It is a grandmother acting as the daycare provider for her 3 year old grand daughter--and needing to receive food. It is folks with mental illness who cannot pay for medication. It is found in small towns with very little job base and no other options. It is the 70 year old man who stands outside of a food pantry, for a week, never going in to receive food, because he is ASHAMED that he has to ask for the help.

Poverty is compounded desperation. Imagine going to bed tonight, knowing that you had no food to serve your children for breakfast. That feeling of helplessness, sadness and self-directed anger at not being able to provide for yourself or your family is a caustic brew.

There are no easy answers but having an education is the surest way out of poverty. It gives opportunities and hope.

I am stepping off of my soapbox now.
posted by zerobyproxy at 5:56 PM on February 15, 2008 [14 favorites]


There's already been a lot of comments in this thread that have said, in one way or another, some of the things I would've, so I'll just say this guy comes off like a real prick, and I have a feeling he's gonna be just pleased as punch to be poster boy for the legions of conservatives who cry endlessly for doing away with what little support there is for the poor in America. Shit makes me madder than hell.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:01 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


There are homeless people everywhere, this homeless guy asked me for money,
the other day, I was about to give it to him, and I thought: he's just
gonna use it on drugs or alcohol.

And then I thought: That's what I'm gonna use it on! Why am I judging
this poor bastard? People love to judge homeless
guys. Like, you give him the money and he's just
gonna waste it, he's gonna waste the money. Well he lives in a box!
What do you want him to do with it, save it up and buy a wall unit?

[...]

"Why don't you go out and get a job, you bum?"
People always say that to homeless guys, get a job. Like it's always
that easy. This homeless guy was wearing his underwear outside his
pants.

I'm guessing his resume ain't all up to date. I'm predicting
some problems during the interview process. I'm pretty sure
McDonalds has an 'Underwear Goes Inside The Pants' policy Not that
they enforce it very strictly, but technically, i'm sure it's on the books.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:08 PM on February 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Being poor, written in the aftermath of Katrina.
posted by Anything at 6:17 PM on February 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


I didn't use my college education, credit history, or contacts [while in South Carolina]. But in real life, I had these lessons that I had learned. I don't think that played to my advantage.

Blindingly stupid shit like this is why I can't take Libertarians seriously.
posted by dirigibleman at 6:37 PM on February 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


The only hypothesis this experiment supports is that a college education may be valuable independent of the degree itself. Which is heartening, I suppose.
posted by blenderfish at 6:44 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


He got a job moving things people, he didn't become president. I'm not sure college, his middle class background, or his race play too much of a role in that. If I remember correctly, I had a moving job before I had a degree -- and I don't remember any of my co-workers having one, nor were they white -- their English was a bit sketchy too. Get some perspective.
posted by Raoul de Noget at 7:01 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Call me when he owns a nationwide chain of wheel-balancing centers.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:04 PM on February 15, 2008


The city saves money, the company makes a profit, everyone wins! When someone gets sent back to prison, another company makes money running the private prison!

That's horrific.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:04 PM on February 15, 2008


I'm not terribly impressed.

After numerous false starts, I finally moved out of my parents house for good at age 20. At that point, I had a GED education, no car, and no job. I had a bad family situation, and had survived a very rough childhood and adolescence. Over the years, I had developed some very harmful drug habits, which had taken a serious toll on my mental health. All of my friends in the city were either dealers or hangers-on. My mind wasn't completely together at the time, but I knew one thing, and that was that I had to *get out.*

So what did I do? I had about $1200 that I had saved from a temp job. I called some of my old friends who lived in a small college town across the state. They had a spare room in their house that they were willing to rent me for $110 a month. I will never, ever, as long as I live, forget what my friends did for me. They put up with me during the 6 months it took for me to dry up and return to reality. When the money ran out, I got a job flipping burgers at a Shoney's. That fall, I returned to college.

Now, there was no way in hell my family was going to give me any money, so I had to borrow my way through school. By the time I graduated, I had racked up about $40K in student loan debt, but I'll never, ever regret it. For my first semester, I was undeclared, but by my second semester, I was required to choose a major. At the time, I was a bit of a hippie, and longed to study anthropology or creative writing. However, I had to face facts, and I knew that I'd never be able to repay my student loans and support myself with a degree in Anthro. So what to do? I had always been good with computers, but I never considered doing it as a career. However, I knew that I could make money at it, and it was really the only marketable skill I had.

So overnight, I went from being a slacker to a hacker. I still partied and fucked around with my friends, but when I had to get shit done, I got shit done. When I enrolled in college, the highest level math class I had taken was high school pre-algebra. Four years later, I graduated with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Mathematics. I want you to think about that for a minute.

So graduation happened in the summer of 2003, which, I'll tell you, was a shitty time to graduate. Sending out resumes was depressing - for all I know, they just went into a big black hole at the end of the internet. Finally, I got a break - on a whim, I had applied for a job at a website that I was fond of reading. During the phone interview, the guy, my future supervisor, asked me a question - I think that it was about network administration, something I didn't know much about. I responded, "Well, I don't know much about that, but give me 72 hours and a good book and I can learn anything." He stopped me right there in my tracks - he said that he had to talk some things over with his boss, but that he'd call me back that afternoon. I didn't know if I had impressed him or what. A couple hours later, he called me back - he wanted to interview me, but there was only one problem - the office was in New York City. So he asked me a question - "How would you feel about moving to New York City?" To which I responded, "Well, I've never been there, but my cousin lives in New York, and he tells me that it's the best city in the world."

Needless to say, I got the job. Two months after my phone interview, I had moved from a sleepy midwestern backwater to New York City. I was working at my first *real* job, at a website that I loved. I had come a long way.

Now, I'm not going to say that it was smooth sailing after that. For the next three years, things were pretty difficult. I had moved to a new city, not knowing anybody except for a cousin who I had never been close to and had nothing in common with. NYC can be a very lonely place, and there were a number of times that I thought about packing it in and going back to the midwest.

The turning point came about three years after I moved to the city, when I finally found - through Metafilter, actually - a real group of friends. They're good people. They keep me happy and feeling loved. And the job? Well, I stuck it out at the website, and now I run my department, make good money, and have a decent chunk of change in the bank. Things are better for me now than they ever were. And the education? Well, it is true that I would have enjoyed studying anthro or english or creative writing. So after graduating, I decided I would read all of the books that I would have read had I studied something less technical. In the last five years, I have read many great (and a few so-so) books.

Things still aren't easy. I still have my share of demons to deal with. But things are good. And they're going to get better.

So, to review, what is it that allowed me to make it out of the hole I had dug for myself back in the late 90s?

1) I was never an asshole. However irresponsible and self-destructive I was, I never took advantage of people or treated my friends poorly.

2) I never lived beyond my means. Even though I think that it's a shame and a crime that young adults in this country have to get into debt in order to get an education, spending four years on a fixed income taught me a lot about budgeting.

3) I was dedicated. Once I decided to go back to school, I refused to let anything stop me. Even when this meant starting at the lowest-level math class my college offered (basic algebra), and working my way up to Calc 3, advanced stat, linear algebra, etc.

4) I was smart. We could argue forever about whether this sort of thing is nature or nurture. However, one thing is unarguable - my intelligence didn't do me any good at all until I decided to put it to use.

So there you have it. Rags to riches, American Dream, etc. However, I'll never forget what it was like to live in a shitty neighborhood in a shitty city, surrounded by dealers and addicts and other various people on their way down. I don't know what it was that separated me from them. God knows, many people (including some of my old friends, RIP) never make it out of that trap. I like to think that somewhere, deep down inside, I always knew that I was meant for better things, and that I wasn't meant to die a meaningless, self-destructive death. However, herein lies the true sadness at the heart of the culture of poverty in this country - millions of people, deep down, don't believe that they deserve any better. They've been mistreated and discriminated against (and in some cases their ancestors had been mistreated and discriminated against) to the point where they don't even think that it's possible to achieve something greater. These are the people who we need to reach. These are the people whom Ehrenreich was trying to help out with her book.

She wasn't trying to help Adam Shepard, who pretty much always knew that things would turn out alright.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:06 PM on February 15, 2008 [40 favorites]


Simply put, this is one of the most blatant displays of contempt for the poor since Ronald Reagan.

I wonder if ketchup is Mr. Shepard's favorite vegetable.
posted by grounded at 7:17 PM on February 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


"I didn't use my college education..."

I didn't use my stay-at-home mother who devoted every waking hour to her children.

I didn't use the lessons about crafting opportunity taught to me by my hardworking father.

I didn't use all of those incredible life-skills, like knowing how to grow and preserve your own food, by my Depression-era grandparents.

I didn't use that experience of moving to L.A. with $200 in my own pocket and watching my private research university bachelor's degree open up door after door.

I didn't use that inheritance my great aunt unselfishly left me to get a graduate degree.

I didn't use that graduate degree...at all.

I didn't use all of those eye-opening experiences of living my 20s in ethnic ghettos to make myself appear cultured and just a little bit hard.

I am the most self-made man I know.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:20 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


He didn't start with nothing--he started with hope and confidence.

Lacking those is the real problem with poverty. Almost no one in a first world country would be poor if they had those two things--at least, not for long.

If you have the right attitude, living in shitty digs and working shitty jobs isn't any worse than a bad camping trip.

I wish more people in poverty had hope and a good attitude. I'm sure its harder to have a good attitude when the established classes have such a lack of empathy and such ignorance of reality.

Being poor is depressing. And it is fucking hard to move upward in life when you are depressed.
posted by wires at 7:24 PM on February 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


Afro that is a good story. And your right about Shepard. And he better wake up and thank his lucky stars because one day.. one day he is suddenly gonna feel like god hates him.

I have ALWAYS known I was lucky.

My family life pretty awesome. I lived all over the world. The worst thing was missing my dad when he was in 'Nam.

I pretty much cruised through school rarely bringing home a book and still got good grades mostly. My parents footed most of the bill of college, though I did work, and I never had to borrow and education was cheap then.

Even through the hard times post graduation having three part time jobs living in a house with six room mates and living on $12 of groceries per week. I still had it easy. Always finding some way to the things I wanted without having any money. Sailing on weekends by scamming my way into the University Yacht Club. Skiing for free on weeknights by making friends with guys at a ski school.

Even when my first career collapsed and I was homeless living on couches for five months and unemployed for nearly 18 months. Taking a night job at Kinkos to make ends meet and lucking into a high paying job that I loved. I also found out I had really good friends.

Or eight years later when my second career imploded along with 60% of our net worth.

Then having to work for free, 14 hours a day 7 days a week, for two years helping my wife build up our business.

Getting ripped off and losing our business to an unscrupulous partner. Then having that unexpectedly turn around and end up MAKING us a ton of money.

All of it turned out for the best.

My luck has always held. Even when it hasn't.

Good things always just dropped into my lap. I don't what I have done in my life to deserve such luck. Everyday I wake up thankful, looking over at my beautiful wife, thinking how awesome the universe has been to me. Always be thankful for what you have. Helps you see what is really important.
posted by tkchrist at 7:45 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, oh wow, Astro Zombie. Thank you for that.

Maybe I don't know enough about the Christian Science Monitor, but I'm startled that it even bothered to give this guy a sympathetic and non-critical interview.

The whole piece is just an advertisement for his book & his "inspirational" talks.

I feel like I need a long, hot shower. Fortunately for me, I can afford to have one.
posted by treepour at 7:56 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hate
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:16 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, to review, what is it that allowed me to make it out of the hole I had dug for myself back in the late 90s?
1) I was never an asshole. [...]
2) I never lived beyond my means. [...]
3) I was dedicated. [...]
4) I was smart. [...]

So there you have it. Rags to riches,


How quickly you forget number 5:
5. I was lucky.

Don't believe me? Your own words:

Finally, I got a break
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:24 PM on February 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well, this thread was worthwhile for the Pulp song. I'd never really listened to that song before.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:46 PM on February 15, 2008


No such thing as luck. Unless you want to rename it grace.

There is so much truth in this thread. I think the biggest thing is, we need each other, and we need to cut each other slack when we can.

And we need to remember that if we are warm, and dry, and fed, we are blessed.
posted by konolia at 8:51 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


there's something else that disturbs me about this whole business - the idea that some people can't do anything for themselves to get a stable life together

i don't argue that some can't - or that the obstacles to having an empowered life can be daunting and impossible for some people to meet

but if they can't manage to hold down a job or build a halfway decent life for themselves what are we to do with them? - let them wander around the streets? - give them what they need, which often results in them squandering what they need for what they want?

are there people so screwed up and incapable that they should not be free to run their own lives? - and i'm not just talking about being schizophrenic, or addicted, or too depressed, but also, too unwilling to work, too uneducated, too unwilling or unable to improve themselves to a functional level?

right now, we pretty much just ignore these people, give them a paltry dole and don't bother further until they do something that results in their being put in jail or prison

why shouldn't they just be TOLD what to do? - why should they be free when they aren't capable of building themselves a worthy life with that freedom?

i'm not coming from a libertarian viewpoint or anything like it here - in fact, i don't have an answer to this question

what i am doing is stating it - because it seems to me that we haven't managed to come up with a real answer to it - not if the millions of people in our underclass are any indication

it's fine to get angry at this kid for saying, "well, i could do it, so anyone on the ball can" - but the other side of the coin is if you're going to argue that some people can't, then why should they be allowed to make choices for themselves that are so ineffective?

40 years ago, we were in the midst of the war on poverty - poverty won - and although the republicans don't give a shit about the poor and therefore shouldn't be listened to when they start talking about bootstraps, what do we have to offer? - we haven't solved the problem after decades of trying - and you're not going to solve it with the same proposals and the same philosophies

millions of people can't seem to get their own lives together on their own initiative - do we let it go on or get their lives together for them? or is there another choice?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:51 PM on February 15, 2008


then why should they be allowed to make choices for themselves that are so ineffective?

Um, because they're human beings, with free will, and if they don't choose to live their lives according to your standards of what a "halfway decent life" is, that's their prerogative.

why should they be free when they aren't capable of building themselves a worthy life with that freedom?

What the fucking fuck are you fucking talking about? Freedom is the default position, not something you get as a reward for living a nice suburban life with a full time productive job and well-behaved children, or whatever constitutes your version of a halfway decent life. Jesus fucking christ on a cooter.
posted by rtha at 9:07 PM on February 15, 2008 [11 favorites]


Oh, and one more thing:

millions of people can't seem to get their own lives together on their own initiative - do we let it go on or get their lives together for them? or is there another choice?

No.
posted by rtha at 9:09 PM on February 15, 2008


Night night, mefites.
posted by LiveLurker at 9:16 PM on February 15, 2008


I do like the idea that you can someone not use a college education once you have it—as if the benefits of a college education end after you can put it down on your resume.

And what's with all the Ehrenreich hate? Yes, she's as much a dilettante of poverty as Mr. Shepard, but you can draw sharp distinctions between them. At least she's trying to be an advocate for the poor. You have to do a bit of moral equivocation to get Shepard and Ehrenreich on the same level. A frat boy sleeping in a homeless shelter and then writing a book about how a good attitude is your salvation is noxious on infinitely more levels than Ehrenreich's book.
posted by Weebot at 9:22 PM on February 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think that is true Weebot but only in sentiment, not in substance.
posted by Raoul de Noget at 9:32 PM on February 15, 2008


In substance they are two different people from different walks of life who did a vaguely similar thing in two totally different ways.
posted by hermitosis at 9:39 PM on February 15, 2008


Oh right, I forgot that Ehrenreich has a Ph.D.
posted by Raoul de Noget at 9:43 PM on February 15, 2008


All of social life is organized from the top down through impenetrable hierarchies to make you into a receptacle for the culture that will seduce you into functioning as a robot in the economy.

Half my immediate family died young and poor, either from heroin or alcohol or some combination thereof. According to some here, they made some kind of choice. That's shite.
posted by meehawl at 9:47 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


As someone who lives below the poverty line (*well* below the poverty line) this kind of crap infuriates me.

Challenge to Mr. Twat-head: Try doing it with a special needs child and in the SF Bay area.
posted by vertigo25 at 9:47 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Raoul de Noget: Care to explain?
posted by Weebot at 9:59 PM on February 15, 2008


Well Ehrenreich essentially became poor to see if she could survive on a poverty wages -- with the assumption that she couldn't, and what a wonderful book that would make. Shepard became poor to see if he could survive and improve his conditions, assuming he could, and what a wonderful book that would make. Same story, different politics.
posted by Raoul de Noget at 10:09 PM on February 15, 2008


and if they don't choose to live their lives according to your standards of what a "halfway decent life" is, that's their prerogative.

in other words, if they're living out of dumpsters, talking to themselves on the streetcorner while smelling of piss, that's quite alright with you

after all, it's their freedom to live a slow death in front of us and shouldn't be interfered with

What the fucking fuck are you fucking talking about?

i'm talking about people who can't take care of themselves and whether compassion necessitates that we control whether they are taken care of

Freedom is the default position

proof, please

after all, this much-praised freedom you talk about must have some kind of benefit that would make a life spent homeless on the streets better than actually being taken and given a decent life

yes, they are free to freeze to death on the streets this winter in my town - what wonderful wisdom and compassion we have shown them as a society by letting them be found dead and cold in front of my town's county courthouse, as some symbol of justice, i'm sure

whatever constitutes your version of a halfway decent life

how about food to eat and a roof over your head for starters? or is that too bourgeois for you?

how about actually trying to answer the question instead of mouthing a bunch of platitudes that haven't been working all that well in the real world?

how about actually THINKING about the question i raised?

is it freedom to die of neglect you espouse or simply freedom as a society to not be bothered to find a solution for those who are dying of neglect?
posted by pyramid termite at 10:18 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


How quickly you forget number 5:
5. I was lucky.

Don't believe me? Your own words:

Finally, I got a break


Umm, is it still "luck" when you have to work your ass off for it for four years, followed by four demoralizing months of sending out resumes and getting no responses because the tech sector went tits-up?

I mean, don't get me wrong - things could have turned out far worse than they did, and I will forever be thankful for what I have. But don't you insinuate for one moment that I didn't work my ass off to get to where I am today.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:25 PM on February 15, 2008


how about food to eat and a roof over your head for starters? or is that too bourgeois for you?

Of course it's not too bourgeois.

But you seem to be suggesting that people who can't "handle" freedom don't "deserve" it. And by freedom, I mean choices - bad choices, good choices, but choices of their own.

It sounds to me as if you're suggesting that if someone is not living some way that you think they should be living, we, as a society, should make them live some other way. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you.

But then: in other words, if they're living out of dumpsters, talking to themselves on the streetcorner while smelling of piss, that's quite alright with you

It isn't "alright" with me. But you seem to be suggesting, when you say things like "why shouldn't they just be TOLD what to do? - why should they be free when they aren't capable of building themselves a worthy life with that freedom?", that we should have the right to tell folks how to live if we don't like or approve of the way they're living.

I'd say we have an obligation to help people in need of help: offer medical support, access to housing, drug counseling, etc. It sounds like you're saying we should force people to do these things if we don't like how they're living.

Am I just not understanding you?

And I can't offer "proof" that freedom is the default. It's a way of looking at the world, not something that's quantifiable. Freedom (to make bad choices, to go to college or not, to take this drug or drink that cocktail, to take this job or reject it) is not something you give someone because they've been "good" according to your criteria.

We do, of course, already restrict peoples' freedom when they act in ways that we have decided are destructive to the social fabric. It's called prison. Are you suggesting that we increase the population there?
posted by rtha at 11:15 PM on February 15, 2008


As others have mentioned, as a personal life experience this could have some merit, although (as I mentioned before) I do worry about someone stretching social services when they don't really need them. A lot of people have brought up the not so X factor of his upbringing and environment up until his little experiment took place and relating to that subject, what I can offer to the conversation is this:

I am a white male of above average intelligence and social abilities, if various standardized tests are to be believed. I did not complete college due to situations which would take far too long to explain here, but let's just say that my parents and I came to a point where we parted ways while I was in high school. Shortly after this happened, I caught a minor charge (bullshit and it was dismissed) and I was locked up for a short time, because my parents decided that the way to teach me a lesson was to let me sit in jail for 2 weeks until I turned 18. I should have been sent to the same max security facility typically used for housing both those in transition in the correctional system as well as the hardcore long timers, but due to my upbringing I had developed the manners and persuasive abilities to talk my way into an alternative incarceration center, or to know that such a place existed for that matter. In fact, I was able to convince my public defender to drive me there (an hour one way) because no transport was available and I'd have to go to Bridgeport otherwise. Other people in similar situation wound up in real prison because they weren't well spoken white kids who could convince someone that they didn't deserve what they would go through there, even though I'm fairly sure at least a few of them were as innocent as I was.

I did my 2 weeks and I went to court on my 18th birthday and I was allowed to leave. My time in AIC or alternative incarceration was pretty easy, thanks in large part to the manners I learned from growing up in a relatively stable and nurturing household. Other people there did not have this advantage, and as intelligent as many of them were their time in AIC was far more difficult because no one had taught them what I knew. I was able to leave on the condition that I convince a judge that I had a stable living situation to go to, which I was able to arrange due to my skill set and most importantly the fact that my upbringing provided me with friends who had parents that fit the bill. I was the exception to the rule in that regard as well, no one had ever left AIC in 12 days before I did.

Once I left, I finished high school, moved out on my own, and started working. I've never stopped since. I've got a long way to go to reach what almost anyone would consider the "American Dream", but I'm doing fairly well for myself. I've convinced employers, landlords, and almost anyone else I needed to that I was worth taking a chance on, and I did it using skills I got from a good upbringing.

I'm sure you've sensed the trend here.

I think that any life experience can be a good one, including the adventure that this gentleman took. But I think it's really important to realize that what he did is just that: An adventure. He was obviously taught a good set of basic values. He also grew up financially stable. His family obviously valued education enough to put him through college. If something went wrong, he had fallbacks. It was mentioned earlier that as soon as harsh reality (a family illness) struck, he fell back.

His adventure is noble in ways, but his conclusion is utterly bunk. He had the same golden tickets many of us have had, and to use his experience to theorize anything besides what happens to upper middle class kids who want a tourist's trip through poverty would be misguided.

A terrible analogy: To pull yourself up by your bootstraps, it's a huge advantage to have been taught what bootstraps are, and why they're important.
posted by rollbiz at 11:16 PM on February 15, 2008 [9 favorites]


Raoul de Noget: I think that's a mischaracterization of Ehrenreich's book: the questions she posed were not whether you can or can't survive on poverty wages. The existence of a working-poor already answers that question. Her book is more interested in what you had to do to survive on those wages—which seems to be that you suffer through a endless stream of indignities (on good days) or lurch from crisis to crisis (on bad ones.) The conclusion she gets to isn't novel, but there is a universe of difference between her and the patently offensive self-absorption that Shepard seems to bring with him. Only one of these two authors has a subtext saying that the poor are that way because they're all fucking failures. I don't see how these two projects would be morally equivalent, nor do I think a few glib ad hominem lines would convince me otherwise.

And you say politics as if that didn't matter one whit—as if they were neutral and interchangeable. Those are some really broad strokes you're painting with, man.
posted by Weebot at 11:22 PM on February 15, 2008 [6 favorites]


But don't you insinuate for one moment that I didn't work my ass off to get to where I am today.

"Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men." -- E. B. White

"Luck? I don't know anything about luck. I've never banked on it, and I'm afraid of people who do. Luck to me is something else: Hard work -- and realizing what is opportunity and what isn't." -- Lucille Ball

"Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Diligence is the mother of good luck." -- Benjamin Franklin.

"Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get." -- Ray Kroc

"Luck is preparation meeting opportunity." –- Harriet Raygor

"Do you feel lucky, punk?" -- Clint Eastwood
posted by panamax at 11:34 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Those are some really broad strokes you're painting with, man.

I was going to paste him for posting the typical internet glibertarian BS, but I find your response so much more intelligent.
posted by panamax at 11:35 PM on February 15, 2008


Maybe I'm misunderstanding you.

you certainly are

Freedom (to make bad choices, to go to college or not, to take this drug or drink that cocktail, to take this job or reject it) is not something you give someone because they've been "good" according to your criteria.

where did i use the description "good"?

i didn't - but you're more interested in protecting your idealogical beliefs and abstract ideals than dealing with the question, it seems - one of which seems to be that we shouldn't use criteria to evaluate how people are living

well, then i guess homelessness, poverty and addiction aren't things we should talk about because those are criteria - it's just an alternative lifestyle and why should we evaluate it?

I'd say we have an obligation to help people in need of help: offer medical support, access to housing, drug counseling, etc.

wait - if we don't have the "right" to tell them how to live, how do they or you have the "right" to place us under any kind of obligation to help them?

again, you're contradicting yourself - you can't argue that people are so desperate that we have an obligation to help them and then suggest that they have no obligation to accept that help under certain terms - or certain circumstances - obligations run both ways, don't they?

and essentially that's what we've done for decades - said that we're willing to help self-destructive people but we're not willing to do anything if they refuse the help and destroy themselves

it's not working very well, is it? - we still have an underclass and it's getting worse, not better

We do, of course, already restrict peoples' freedom when they act in ways that we have decided are destructive to the social fabric.

homelessness, addiction and poverty aren't?

It's called prison.

or a nursing home - or a halfway house - or a government housing center

there are many alternatives here
posted by pyramid termite at 11:59 PM on February 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Raoul de Noget writes "He got a job moving things people, he didn't become president. I'm not sure college, his middle class background, or his race play too much of a role in that. If I remember correctly, I had a moving job before I had a degree -- and I don't remember any of my co-workers having one, nor were they white -- their English was a bit sketchy too. Get some perspective."

The moment reality hit and someone got sick, he bailed. Poor people can't do that. Get some perspective.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:05 AM on February 16, 2008


"No such thing as luck."

The real world is full of luck. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. Sometimes good people walk out their door and have a safe fall on them. Sometimes people take insane risks and get away with them. Some people meet the girl of their dreams, others die young of obscure diseases.

I've worked very hard to get where I am but I've been extremely lucky and I remember this each day.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:13 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Raoul de Noget writes "Well Ehrenreich essentially became poor to see if she could survive on a poverty wages -- with the assumption that she couldn't, and what a wonderful book that would make. Shepard became poor to see if he could survive and improve his conditions, assuming he could, and what a wonderful book that would make. Same story, different politics."

Who do you think Shepard's audience is? The actual poor that he seems to be lecturing about their attitude? Because I doubt he'll reach them by writing a book.

He's writing this book for people who don't need his advice, and aren't looking for it anyway. He's doing this to impress other privileged people with his story, not to help anyone.

But aside from any moral implications of his actions, actual rags-to-riches stories are much more interesting. I surely don't need him to tell me what it's like to be poor and succeed despite your circumstances. He did no such thing. His circumstances gave him a family illness, and he gave up being poor. He failed.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:20 AM on February 16, 2008 [7 favorites]


Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that this guy is absolutely correct. Let's assume that there are millions of poor people out there who are capable of doing what he did.

Okay.. How much was that moving company paying? This was in the south and not in a major city, right? Cool. I live in the south in a moderate sized city. I'm guessing the moving company paid him around nine bucks an hour at most. I really think it was probably less, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Further, let's assume he had to pay only 10 percent in taxes. It was probably more, but, again, the benefit of the doubt. That leaves him with 324 a week; about 1300 a month.

Where I live, you could probably get a crappy one bedroom apartment for about 450 a month. With utilities, figure 550. If you bought thrift store furniture, you could furnish the place for maybe 300 dollars. Let's assume that he saved up that as well as his first month's rent, his security deposit, his utilities deposits, and so forth while he was living in the homeless shelter. That means that whatever he saved in those two months is now gone; he's back to zero, living hand to mouth. After rent and utilities, he's got 750 a month. He might be able to survive spending 300 a month on food, toothpaste, etc. I think it would be more, but let's assume 300. That leaves 450 a month that he can put aside for the automobile, which he does for eight months (ten months, minus the two spent in the shelter). 450 x 8 comes out to 3600 bucks. But wait, didn't he say he had 2500 in savings at the time the project ended? That means he spent only around a thousand bucks on the car. (Truck. Whatever.) I'm assuming he didn't get a loan because that would go against his whole spiel about how poor people should be frugal and disciplined. I mean, even under the best of circumstances, automobile loans come with staggering interest rates. So we're going to assume that he ends up with a one thousand dollar car, which would be a real piece of crap. We'll further assume that he managed to squeeze the insurance payments (let's say 50 bucks a month, liability only) into his budget.

From this position, it would only take one slip and he'd be back at the homeless shelter.
-If his crappy car breaks down.
-If he's injured or gets sick. (He didn't get health insurance, did he?)
-If he's robbed, mugged, ripped off, scammed, or otherwise financially fucked over.
-If he's in a car accident.
-If one of his sex partners gets pregnant.
-If he's fired or laid off.
-If he runs afoul of the law in any way, even if it's just failing to have current tags on his car or driving without insurance.

Indeed, he did encounter just such an emergency. He says that he chose to end the experiment when a family member got sick. But what if he hadn't been able to just end it at his discretion? What if he hadn't had that credit card in his back pocket and his family had really been poor, he would have had to either stay put while the relative was sick (and possibly dying) or gone into debt to go visit them. In addition, if he would have had to leave town suddenly and stay gone for a while, he probably would have lost his job and apartment as well.

I'm not faulting the guy for bailing and returning home; I'd have done the same thing. But when it came time to write the book and blog and so forth, instead of reporting that his attempt to live on low wages was a smashing success, he should have been honest and said that it went pretty well until he ran into an unforseen crisis he couldn't handle. Which, actually, is what many poverty activist types have been saying for some time; that the poor get by much of the time, until they have a sudden and expensive emergency (often health related) that knocks them off their feet and they can't get back up again.

But even if we completely discount the way he exited the experiment, there's a much, much larger and more obvious problem with his argument. Remember, his objective was to finish the year in a position to move up the ladder. He wanted to have enough money to start his own business or go to school. And this makes sense because no one can be a mover forever. It's hard, physical work with a good chance of injury and (again, I have to assume) doesn't offer affordable insurance. In other words, it's a job for a young, strong male who's just starting out. If he were actually going to survive in this life for years to come, he would, indeed, have had to engineer some sort of promotion (literal or figurative) for himself.

The problem here is that only a small percentage of workers can get these promotions. Walmart has ten or fifteen cashiers and shelf stockers for every one manager. And there are probably a dozen or more shift and assistant managers for every store manager, five or ten store managers for every district manager, and so forth. There are always far more positions available at the bottom of the ladder than there are at the top. So if one person gets a promotion, ten do not. Even if all of those people work incredibly hard and excel at their jobs, there's only one slot open so only one of them gets it. And then even if. somehow, miraculously all ten of them did get promoted, the company would just have to hire more people to fill those low level jobs and we'd be right back where we started.

The system does not and cannot allow large numbers of people to move up the ladder. You can't have a city full of doctors, lawyers and engineers with no ditch diggers, janitors, or cashiers. Someone will fill those low level jobs, one way or another.

Of course, that doesn't mean that we have to pay low level workers starvation wages and deny them health care. We can do better by them if we so choose.
posted by Clay201 at 12:26 AM on February 16, 2008 [11 favorites]


konolia writes "No such thing as luck. Unless you want to rename it grace."

I like the rest of what you said. But there is such a thing as luck. Luck is just a concept, but it's about the most succinct way to say that life happens.

I came from a privileged background, but I also had cancer when I was 19. I got treatment and was considered cured five years later. So, because of the outstanding insurance my dad had provided for me at the time, I received the best treatment. Was it grace that I had cancer, or the ability to overcome it with money and supportive family? Would it have been grace if I had been crushingly poor, uninsured, or even living in a much more desperate country, and had died from lack of care instead?

Grace is bullshit. Sorry. The untold millions of innocent lives in the midst of desperate poverty who eke out bare sustenance existences are not there for lack of grace. It's our own fault that we let it happen. Hard problem to solve, but we can't pawn this off on someone (even a creator) and hope for the best.

But we do need to take care of each other, and remind ourselves that we may be blessed, but not because we're special.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:35 AM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


From the CS monitor piece:

He also made new friends, finding work as a day laborer, which led to a steady job with a moving company.

Right. Because he's 22 years old and in the kind of perfect health you get from an upper middle class background that includes continual warmth and shelter; no shortage of healthy food; and solid, continual health care. That is not dragging yourself up from homelessness or true poverty.

He also comments "How much of a college education do you need to budget your money to a point that you're not spending frivolously, but you're instead putting your money in the bank?"

You do not need a college education for this. You do need basic numeracy, which if you come from his family background, you are pretty much assured. If you spent your life in bad foster care, being bounced from school to school, you are far less likely to have it. You also need to have someone teach you survival budgeting as a life skill - the fact that pretty much everyone here in this conversation is privileged enough to have learned it doesn't mean everyone else has this opportunity.

Don't EVEN get me started on the bank account. For which, I will just say, you need a social security number.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:54 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


To pull yourself up by your bootstraps, it's a huge advantage to have been taught what bootstraps are, and why they're important.

To pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you've got to have boots. (Al Franken used a similar line, and I'm paraphrasing from memory here, in announcing his run for senator: "We should encourage people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but they have to have boots first")
posted by Gnatcho at 1:11 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


or a nursing home - or a halfway house - or a government housing center

Do you force people into these? If they don't want to go to them, do you force them?

You didn't start out talking about homeless schizophrenic drug addicts. You started, in fact, by saying are there people so screwed up and incapable that they should not be free to run their own lives? - and i'm not just talking about being schizophrenic, or addicted, or too depressed, but also, too unwilling to work, too uneducated, too unwilling or unable to improve themselves to a functional level?

You suggested that we take control of the lives of people who are "too unwilling to work, too uneducated..." etc. How do you think we should do this? And who decides who is "too uneducated" to be allowed to live life the way they want to?

we're willing to help self-destructive people but we're not willing to do anything if they refuse the help and destroy themselves

What do you suggest we do? I'm saying, we ask them what kind of help they need. Remove barriers to accessing that help. Offer programs to help them get educated, learn to run a business, whatever. And if they don't take that help, well, yeah, what am I going to do? Lock them up? Because it sounds like what you're saying is "If they don't do what we say they should do to improve their lives, we should do X" I'm asking you what the X is.
posted by rtha at 1:13 AM on February 16, 2008


300 a month on food, toothpaste, etc.

My family of five -of FIVE-spent way less than that for food and toothpaste, etc for years and years and stinking years.
posted by konolia at 1:39 AM on February 16, 2008


My family of five -of FIVE-spent way less than that for food and toothpaste, etc for years and years and stinking years.

we r talking 2007 and not the 1950s here.
posted by panamax at 6:07 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


If budgeted properly and cooked at home, I can eat like a king for $25 a week. In 2007.
posted by hermitosis at 6:52 AM on February 16, 2008


Do you force people into these? If they don't want to go to them, do you force them?

if that's the only alternative to the status quo, perhaps we should consider it - or perhaps better yet, make it a condition of governmental help

You didn't start out talking about homeless schizophrenic drug addicts.

i'm talking about a whole spectrum of people with different problems

And who decides who is "too uneducated" to be allowed to live life the way they want to?

if you don't have a physical disability and can't keep a roof over your head or food on your table without government help or criminal activity, that's a fairly good metric of being "too uneducated, too etc"

What do you suggest we do? I'm saying, we ask them what kind of help they need.

that's our current mode - it has been for decades - the problem hasn't been solved, has it?

Because it sounds like what you're saying is "If they don't do what we say they should do to improve their lives, we should do X" I'm asking you what the X is.

you have government run neighborhoods - people are told what to do and how to do it as a condition of continuing to receive government help - this would include mandatory jobs and training - those who refuse can leave, but if they become involved in illegal activity, including vagrancy, they can be sent back or put in even more structured environments

or they can get jobs in the private sector and move out when they have enough money saved and are ready to live on their own - (by the way, this society should have living wages and national health insurance, too - this would help people who are capable and have had rotten luck)

in short, it's decided economically - but with a lot more compassion and engagement then it is now, where it is also decided economically

yes, i'm suggesting that freedom is actually dependent on people being able to have responsibility for themselves - your misunderstanding seems to be that this is something that i'm attempting to impose upon people - but aren't many people actually arguing in this thread that many aren't free to improve their lives? - that they can't make the choices they need to? - it seems to be an actual feature of the society we live in, doesn't it?

i'm not sure i like this whole proposal either - but i also see that our current system is not working and the idea of doing the same things, just better funded, is not convincing to me - also not convincing to me is the argument people are using against this guy - that the poor don't have his choices, that they aren't free to change - and yet they should still have this mythological freedom they don't actually have

if they don't have free will, how can they have a right to choose?

(as for me, i think that his visiting the underclass and their environment as if this was some kind of exotic foreign country he was writing a travel book about says something quite disturbing about our culture - and i'm not fond of "slumming")

i think over the next century, our attitudes and methods may well change in regard to this issue and this is one of the ways things could evolve - yes, it's a radical and disturbing idea - but people of 1908 would find our world pretty radical and disturbing, too
posted by pyramid termite at 6:52 AM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thought I'd post these: Adam Shepard's Youtube Intro. An interview he did with a Raleigh television station.

One thing that I noticed is that he talks about all the guys he met, being that poverty disproportionately affects women. Just that says a about the scope of his project.

Oh god, I just heard the NPR heads talking about him...
posted by Weebot at 8:55 AM on February 16, 2008


Looking over those clips, what's most infuriating is that his great revelation about poverty is that people don't stay impoverished. He attributes it to scrappy bootstrap-pulling and the perseverance and proof of upward mobility, though it hardly proves the latter. If you do any cursory research about the topic, you quickly find out that is hardly the case. If he had even just cruised over to Wikipedia's entry about poverty in the US, he'd have found that very fact in the article's lede. To pull a quote from there:
While in any given year 12 to 15 percent of the population is poor, over a ten-year period 40 percent experience poverty in at least one year because most poor people cycle in and out of poverty; they don't stay poor for long periods. Poverty is something that happens to the working class, not some marginal 'other' on the fringes of society.
posted by Weebot at 9:18 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


My family of five -of FIVE-spent way less than that for food and toothpaste, etc for years and years and stinking years.

we r talking 2007 and not the 1950s here.


I'm talking early 2000's. My grocery budget got to three hundred for the first time in 2006.
posted by konolia at 9:30 AM on February 16, 2008


...And all your household adults held down 35hr/wk min-wage jobs while you were doing that, Konolia? You must be an endless font of energy to have the time to not only do meal plans and comparison shopping, but all that cooking and cleaning on top of working a full week of physical labor.

Or are you just leaving out the non-monetary inputs into the system?
posted by Orb2069 at 10:24 AM on February 16, 2008


why shouldn't they just be TOLD what to do? - why should they be free when they aren't capable of building themselves a worthy life with that freedom?

i'm not coming from a libertarian viewpoint or anything like it here - in fact, i don't have an answer to this question


I think you need to double-check your definition of "libertarian".

BTW, do you know who else thought people needed to be told what to do?
posted by mkultra at 10:36 AM on February 16, 2008


This is an interesting experiment. Shepard was well-educated, healthy, and had a stable personality developed over a lifetime of experiences that taught him to be optimistic. He also kept a credit card in his back pocket "for emergencies." This deprived him of a really central part of the homeless experience: the all-pervasive feeling of fear and hopelessness that a lot of homeless folks I've spoken with have told me about. He's also a good-looking white man in a culture where those attributes are highly valued and rewarded.

The link to 'Why' are people homeless devotes a small paragraph to the issue of mental illness. Noting that 16% of homeless people are mentally ill (depending on how you measure, of course, but it never says that - I'd make the number far greater), it points out that deinstitutionalization, a trend that began in the 50's and 60's, can't explain the rise in homelessness that started in the 80's. No, no, it certainly can't. Deinstitutionalization in the 50's and 60's was a humane movement; it was about releasing people who didn't really need to be institutionalized into carefully guided environments where they could function in the community in a limited way, without destabilizing the comfort of those communities. Deinstitutionalization in the 80's - viz. Mike Dukakis, Massachussetts - was about shuttering the doors and windows of all the institutions, drastically curtailing or eliminating outpatient mental health services as well, and releasing people onto the street who had absolutely no means of fending for themselves.

That trend had nothing to do with humaneness. It was about money, and it continues as a trend today.

Shepard's experiment, bless him, doesn't shed any light on these issues at all, and if anything it may serve as a vehicle to promote active ignorance or dismissal of these important issues, by people who have a fiscal dog in the race.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:37 AM on February 16, 2008 [6 favorites]


You must be an endless font of energy to have the time to not only do meal plans and comparison shopping, but all that cooking and cleaning on top of working a full week of physical labor.

oh, for pete's sake - you know what the prices are at each store for the items you buy and you pay close attention to the flyers that come out every week in the paper - meal plans and cooking don't have to be that overwhelming and one can multitask - and of course, as time goes by, you have a ready source of slave labor to help you with the cleaning - your kids

grocery shopping cheaply is NOT a lot of work

surely you're not trying to argue that konolia and tens of millions of other americans are doing the impossible on a weekly basis?

and 300 for a family of 5 in a month is a little tight, but it's doable
posted by pyramid termite at 10:41 AM on February 16, 2008


Part of that time I worked third shift waffle house with three preschool children at home. No, I didn't sleep much, thank you. Part of it I stayed at home, homeschooled, and baked bread. Part of it I had an office job. My husband had either jobs with insane hours that didn't pay much or sales jobs that were not reliable. We had crappy cars-a whole series of them. Cars that most of you would be ashamed to be seen in.

We ate lentilburgers and potato soup and stirfry rice heavy on the rice and light on everything else. I made pots of lentils and sausage that lasted several days. Big pots of spaghetti that also lasted several days. And the house was always trashed because no, I was not superhuman, and ps turns out I was bipolar too. Oh joy. We also managed the occasional pizza or fast food but we used coupons or got dollar menu items.

Now I am in a house my husband bought us and we have a car we bought brand new last year. He worked his way up into management and I do volunteer work plus a side cleaning job once every two weeks.
posted by konolia at 10:45 AM on February 16, 2008


It dawned on me who this guy reminds me of: Holden Karnofsky. Privileged, white, frat-boy types who decide to mingle with the disadvantaged for reasons that speak more to their own ambition and received world view than to a genuine concern for those in less fortunate circumstances.

They even look a little bit alike.
posted by Rumple at 10:47 AM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I would like to say one other thing. From my experiences and my observations of others-the fact that I had an intact family was an incredible advantage. So many of the problems I saw around me were exacerbated by the fact there wasn't a dad in the home. Single moms have an insane burden.
posted by konolia at 10:48 AM on February 16, 2008


If budgeted properly and cooked at home, I can eat like a king for $25 a week. In 2007.
--/--
I'm talking early 2000's. My grocery budget got to three hundred for the first time in 2006.

What the hell are you people eating? I'd be afraid of eating dinner at a restaurant that charged me $25.
posted by cytherea at 10:49 AM on February 16, 2008


His "You Can Help!" link is interesting as well -- take kids to baseball games, don't give them money. It's almost like an anti-panhandling campaign:


Charities abound. Everywhere. So many people want to help. They give time, money…whatever resources they can offer.

And others don’t. [....] Go to the Big Brothers, Big Sisters website; find the chapter near you; and go volunteer. You can make a difference, and you don’t have to drop a single dollar.

posted by Rumple at 10:52 AM on February 16, 2008


cytheria, my current freelance-wage diet:

Breakfast: McCann's oatmeal, made with walnuts and soymilk, sweetened with jam. $1.50 per serving.

Lunch/Dinner: Various soups and stews made in massive quantities in the crockpot and then frozen, kept in heavy rotation to stave off boredom. Currently: Pinto bean soup with Polish sausage, carrots, and potatoes, with day-old pumpernickel from a local bakery. Under $1 per serving.

Snacks: Orange, 69 cents. CLIF bar, $1

That's about $4.50 a day, which cracks $30 (so I was a little optimistic in my earlier comment). Suffice to say (and as konolia pointed out) there are lots of other meals I could make on the same budget. Since I'm NOT crawling out of poverty and my diet IS elective, I cheat often and have meals out, or buy specialty foods that cost more (and candy!). But this is my general template for household food. It's tasty, nourishing, and if a crisis suddenly emerges, I know I'm already doing the best I can to preserve my funds. And my sister and other friends that wind up hanging around during mealtimes seem to enjoy my home-cooked meals easily as much as restaurant food.
posted by hermitosis at 11:11 AM on February 16, 2008


Even then, as Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out in her book, a diet like mine requires that a person have access to appliances such as a stovetop or a crock pot and a freezer, the necessary pots, pans, and utensils. A lot of the dwellings available to the poor don't come with those, and if I was working two jobs and commuting back and forth to them, I probably wouldn't have time to cook anyway. I'd wind up spending $5-$7 per meal at fast food places or on quick store-bought snacks.

Someone worse off than me could easily wind up spending twice as much on food or more.
posted by hermitosis at 11:20 AM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


you have government run neighborhoods - people are told what to do and how to do it as a condition of continuing to receive government help - this would include mandatory jobs and training - those who refuse can leave, but if they become involved in illegal activity, including vagrancy, they can be sent back or put in even more structured environments

You're talking about workhouses. Poorhouses. Or maybe prison. How Dickensian.

I think we're going to have to agree to disagree, because as nanny-statish as I'm sure some folks around here would say that I am, your proposals completely horrify me. We already have a lot of sticks in this equation - in many/most/all states, if you need welfare, you're required to work (often at a job the state tells you to do). Truancy is illegal. Vagrancy is, in some places, illegal. Using illegal drugs is illegal. All of these things are punishable by jail time or fines or loss of benefits.

You seem to want more - to force people to live where and how you think they should live (for their own benefit, of course!). A lot of places already do this, to some extent, or did (I'm thinking of the rules in countries like apartheid South Africa, China, the former Soviet Union); the state dictates where you can live, what job you can do, what kind of schooling you do or don't get. I'm about as far from a libertarian as you can get, but even I think that that's giving the state way, way too much power.
posted by rtha at 11:28 AM on February 16, 2008


Another point which I think Ehrenreich makes, is that the chronically working-poor crave the odd luxury as much as anyone else. We all want a treat, we want a treat for their kids,, we want life to be easier for 10 minutes now, not in a hopelessly distant 5 years from now. It is good Calvinism but hopelessly poor psychology to dictate that there should be no treats, so to speak.

Because Adam knew he had a treat in his pocket, because he had had a lot of treats in his life and knew what they were like, hell, because he knew that one day there would be many many treats again, he missed out on the essential mindset of poverty - of wanting/needing things to be better for just a moment, and be willing to trade that for a future that is uncertain anyway.

Also, Adam knew if his books and public speaking gig took off he could have that beemer. Sort of like Holden and his paycut from the hedge fund to build a career (eventually lucrative) as a big player in the charity accountability business.
posted by Rumple at 11:33 AM on February 16, 2008 [7 favorites]


I'd be afraid of eating dinner at a restaurant that charged me $25.

I sure hope this is tongue in cheek. Otherwise...wow. Don't know what they're feeding you in New York these days, but in Chicago you can have a quite nice meal for way under $25. However, $25 a week seems hyperbolic to me unless you're pretty much just eating rice and hamburger.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:45 AM on February 16, 2008


Lay off konolia. Sheesh.
posted by jokeefe at 12:00 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're talking about workhouses. Poorhouses. Or maybe prison. How Dickensian.

it's obvious to me that you're going to give this the worst possible interpretation you can to avoid actually thinking about it - it would not have to be done in a dickensian way

as if sleeping on a heating grate wasn't dickensian

You seem to want more - to force people to live where and how you think they should live

and that isn't being done in our current society? that saying that we should help them doesn't involve forcing people to adjust their budgets and lives to help pay for those programs? that people aren't forced to be homeless now because of lack of money and resources?

at least i'm not dishonest enough to call being forced to live a certain way or pay a certain price to be freedom of choice - which is exactly what our society is doing now

in many cases, this freedom you defend is an effective lie

A lot of places already do this, to some extent, or did (I'm thinking of the rules in countries like apartheid South Africa, China, the former Soviet Union); the state dictates where you can live, what job you can do, what kind of schooling you do or don't get.

fallacy of the excluded middle

I'm about as far from a libertarian as you can get, but even I think that that's giving the state way, way too much power.

it's a legitimate concern - but if you look closely at the trend of what people propose and what people want the government to do, the state is getting more power all the time - and eventually, this kind of idea is going to be proposed in public and taken very seriously

as i said, it's quite possible this could be a reality in 100 years

calling it dickensian or godwining the thread like the other guy did isn't going to be any kind of refutation

you've still skipped over the main point - if you can say that we are obligated to help certain people, aren't they obligated to do certain things we consider to be beneficial for that help? - you accuse me of telling people how to live but you don't seem to have any problems telling people how to spend their money - if i and the rest of the taxpayers are footing the bill for someone else's room and board, why shouldn't we tell them how to live?

or do obligations and force only work upon those who pay for things?
posted by pyramid termite at 12:04 PM on February 16, 2008


if you can say that we are obligated to help certain people, aren't they obligated to do certain things we consider to be beneficial for that help?

OK, I'll bite. Please, start a list- I'd like to know the things that, according to you, people on public assistance should not be allowed to do.

Please note that these should be things that you have documented evidence that the people in question actually do, not some made up crap like "put rims on their Cadillac".
posted by mkultra at 1:06 PM on February 16, 2008


you've still skipped over the main point - if you can say that we are obligated to help certain people, aren't they obligated to do certain things we consider to be beneficial for that help?

I didn't, though. Skip over it. We already set conditions that people have to meet in order to receive housing aid, food stamps, unemployment. If you're homeless and want housing, you (in many places, not all) must be sober and drug-free to get it, and you have to stay that way. If you want welfare, you have to enroll in school and/or work X hrs per week; if you get food stamps, you're restricted in what you can use them for; and so on. (I'm speaking in vast generalities here because the rules and requirements vary from state to state.)

You obviously find these conditions inadequate. From what you say, you want to introduce more sticks into the equation. I disagree.

And by mentioning China, the former Soviet Union, and apartheid-era South Africa, I don't think I'm excluding the middle ground. You're the one who said that certain people should not be free to run their own lives; that, in fact, freedom is not a right but a privilege. This does not sound middle-ground to me.

You admit that giving the state this kind of power might be problematic, but then you say it's a legitimate concern - but if you look closely at the trend of what people propose and what people want the government to do, the state is getting more power all the time - and eventually, this kind of idea is going to be proposed in public and taken very seriously

All kinds of terrible, destructive, and anti-liberty policies are proposed all the time (Protect America Act, anyone?); the fact that they're taken seriously, and even adopted, doesn't make them good or okay. Because the state has begun to abrogate our rights in certain areas does not mean we should bend over and allow them to strip us of what rights remain.

It sounds to me like you're coming from a place of terrible frustration, and I get that. There is such suffering, and so many people who seem too stubborn or stupid to take the help offered, to take advantage of even the tiny opportunities offered. I mean, I have the occasional fantasy where I get to be ruler of the universe, and everyone has to do what I say; and of course, all of my decisions are wise and just, and of course everyone obeys me because I know best what's right for every single person on the planet.

So in my secret life, I'm apparently a very nice totalitarian. Out here in the real world, how could that possibly be a good thing? Why on earth would I want the state to have that kind of power over me? Why would you?
posted by rtha at 1:48 PM on February 16, 2008


I sure hope this is tongue in cheek. Otherwise...wow. Don't know what they're feeding you in New York these days, but in Chicago you can have a quite nice meal for way under $25.

I didn't ask to be born a princess. It's not my fault I like nice things. I can't help it if toro is $6 a piece. And I do exaggerate, but only a bit. Living alone and not having the time or inclination to cook for myself, I tend to eat out almost all the time, and it's a very special day if the waiter/waitress brings a check for under $25. I feel so very, very spoiled after reading Ehrenreich and this thread. But even cooking at home is expensive. The last time I cooked for a party I think I must have spent $50 for the ingredients for a chestnut soup which is about $9 per person.
posted by cytherea at 2:30 PM on February 16, 2008


OK, I'll bite.

you godwinned yourself out of this discussion

---

You obviously find these conditions inadequate.

i find them inadequate because after all these years, we still have a dysfunctional underclass in this society - whether the proposal i've outlined is a good proposal is something i'm not sure about

You're the one who said that certain people should not be free to run their own lives

those certain people are not free to run their own lives as things stand right now - and anyone who is arguing for the status quo is in fact arguing that these certain people should not be free - because that will be the result

that, in fact, freedom is not a right but a privilege.

it is neither, of course - if there is such a thing as freedom, it is something one has by being able to run one's own life - it is a mode of being

if you're dependent on the government for your eating money, you are not free

if you are begging for another man's bread, you are not free

Why on earth would I want the state to have that kind of power over me? Why would you?

and now we come to it - it's all about you and your freedoms - but of course, being able, i assume, to earn a living and do all that, your freedoms were never threatened by this proposal

and so, many people who cannot take care of themselves will continue to wander our streets because you would feel threatened by any attempt to take away what you misleadingly call their "freedom" - because it's "totalitarian" and "anti-liberty"

i think in the context of those people's lives, your values are misapplied and thoroughly meaningless

i'm done with this
posted by pyramid termite at 2:32 PM on February 16, 2008


But even cooking at home is expensive. The last time I cooked for a party I think I must have spent $50 for the ingredients for a chestnut soup which is about $9 per person.

if you're not a troll I wish you were.
posted by generalist at 2:38 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


you godwinned yourself out of this discussion

Look, I can't help it if my pointing out your latent fascistic tendencies upsets you, but that's an awfully stupid reason to avoid answering a question.

Still waiting for that list.
posted by mkultra at 2:45 PM on February 16, 2008


I think people should have a choice in life but if an ablebodied person refuses to even try I think she or he should be left to his or her own devices. Too many people need help who cannot help themselves or can help themselves simply if given a leg up.

I think a large part of the problem is untreated mental or addiction issues. We give the mentally ill freedom to not take meds, which on one level they deserve a choice but if they choose wrong it's very detrimental. An addict, I would submit, has lost the power of choice to his or her addiction already.
posted by konolia at 2:51 PM on February 16, 2008


Mkultra, I for one would love to see a mechanism to keep shiftless men from sponging off moms on food stamps. I saw that over and over and over. She's lonely so she doesn't let herself see how badly she is being used.
posted by konolia at 2:52 PM on February 16, 2008


I tend to eat out almost all the time, and it's a very special day if the waiter/waitress brings a check for under $25.

So you really spend more than $1,500 per month on food? Whatever you do for a living, I need to start doing it.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:58 PM on February 16, 2008


and 300 for a family of 5 in a month is a little tight, but it's doable

Two dollars for per person per day for food and disposable goods like toilet paper, soap, shaving cream, and toothpaste? Are you insane? This is not doable.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:04 PM on February 16, 2008


I didn't ask to be born a princess. It's not my fault I like nice things.

...

I tend to eat out almost all the time, and it's a very special day if the waiter/waitress brings a check for under $25.

...

The last time I cooked for a party I think I must have spent $50 for the ingredients for a chestnut soup which is about $9 per person.


Here's an idea. Take $25 and the clothes on your back, leave your apartment, and start fresh from a homeless shelter. I think for you it would be good.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:05 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is not doable.

this woman claims she does it

i say she would probably save a little more at save-a-lot - but avoid the bread there
posted by pyramid termite at 3:26 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Are you insane? This is not doable.

You know, I thought the same thing at first, but food has to be by far the biggest expense on there, and:
  1. You actually don't need to eat every day. Skipping a day of food once a week probably won't have an overly deleterious affect on your health. In fact, Art de Vany says you ought to skip once in a while.
  2. Some of the things she listed didn't sound terribly nutritious.
I could get by on $6 a day, and each meal (two per day) would give me vegetables, brown rice and fish protein. Now, if food prices were to rise dramatically...
posted by adamdschneider at 3:30 PM on February 16, 2008


I realized I'm late to this party, but I have to add my personal experience, something similar...

I'm white and grew up with a fairly privileged background. I went to high school in a wealthy suburb and then went to a highly respected private university.

The summer between my first and second years of college, my family fell apart. There was no money for school. My parents were too disfunctional to help me get a scholarship. I could have stayed at home, but it was bordering on dangerous. I managed to make my way back to campus with absolutely no money, never having had a job before in my life. Of course, by December I had a job and an apartment, but I was well aware of the fact that being white, presentable and well-spoken made all the difference. I thought about it almost everyday - I was terrified, having had everything taken away from me, and I knew that the only reason I landed safely was color and class.

I've also done outreach work with drug addicts and homeless women walking the streets, they look like hell and can barely talk, their best clothes are horrendous, and they dream of getting a job in a restaurant or as a secretary and you know it is just a cruel joke.

How can this Adam Shephard be so stupid?
posted by maggiemaggie at 3:36 PM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


(I accidentally posted this to the Bull Poker thread, and now am a little embarrassed.)

I heard about this book on the radio today. He was interviewed on NPR and it was very fluffy, and I thought exactly what the first swath of comments here said, plus those lyrics popped in my head. I was stunned that the interviewer never pointed out that for this guy this was a project, not his life. Knowing you can bail at any moment if you fail is NOT "starting from scratch."
posted by Tehanu at 3:47 PM on February 16, 2008


I didn't ask to be born a princess. It's not my fault I like nice things.
...I tend to eat out almost all the time, and it's a very special day if the waiter/waitress brings a check for under $25.


My first reaction to this is disgust, but presumably what I spend or consider normal is ridiculously indulgent to someone else.. we always think whatever we do is the right amount - more than us is too much (indulgent / wasteful) while less is too little (impossible, puritan...)

Two dollars for per person per day for food and disposable goods like toilet paper, soap, shaving cream, and toothpaste? Are you insane? This is not doable.

We only think it's "not doable" because we're thinking in terms of meals, in terms of what it costs at a restaurant or to make some fancy recipe. If you're just talking about getting enough calories to survive in fair health, I don't doubt it's possible. A giant bag of rice, a giant bag of dried beans, some root vegetables that will last a while, some oatmeal - there are plenty of cheap foods that you can buy in bulk, and if you ration what you can use for each meal, you can make it last.

The original story is idiotic. The guy has no idea what he's claiming. The original premise is just ridiculous on its face - you can't "give up" your psychological make-up, your education, your background, your beliefs about other people and the world, your years of learning how to think, respond, deal with situations, understand social interchange, etc. It's amazing to me that someone could imagine that "capital investment after graduation" is what people mean by "starting with an advantage". And then to top it off he gives up the experiment just at the point when it becomes potentially challenging and claims it's a success! Unbelievable.

That this guy is selling books and getting interviewed is just further evidence of the incestuous nature of success. He's gotta have connections.
posted by mdn at 4:18 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


and so, many people who cannot take care of themselves will continue to wander our streets because you would feel threatened by any attempt to take away what you misleadingly call their "freedom" - because it's "totalitarian" and "anti-liberty"

Of course I'd feel threatened. That could be me, wandering the streets - despite my gobs of privilege. There have been times in my life when I've been less than a paycheck away from disaster. In any case, I shouldn't get to have more rights than someone else just because I have more stuff and a more stable life. Someone out there - many someones, actually - has more stuff and stability than I do, and I hope you don't think that Steve Jobs or Bill Gates should get to have, by law, better or more rights than the people who have less than they do.
posted by rtha at 4:27 PM on February 16, 2008


So you really spend more than $1,500 per month on food? Whatever you do for a living, I need to start doing it.

I only eat once per day, and skip maybe one day a week to stay thin. But clearly I cannot handle money and it would be wise for my future significant other to remove the plastic from my purse.

Here's an idea. Take $25 and the clothes on your back, leave your apartment, and start fresh from a homeless shelter. I think for you it would be good.

I would never survive. Not only I do have very necessary and expensive medical expenditures not covered by insurance, but I cannot go to work without looking nice--and clothes and makeup aren't cheep. Emotionally I'm way too fragile--I would immediately sink into an uncontrollable deep pit of depression. And I'm completely hapless at dealing with and totally frighted of bureaucratic institutions. I'm also quite shy and not particularly assertive, and, honestly, I'd prefer not to be raped again. So, yes, if my being traumatized to death is a good thing, then moving into a homeless shelter with $25 would be very, very good for me.

I've clearly been engineered to prosper only in modern, stable, peaceful times, so it's rather funny that I don't have much hope, anymore, that we'll be able to treat people with dignity and improve the lives of the poor in this country without a socialist revolution that I would not expect to live through. But I would support it nonetheless.
posted by cytherea at 4:41 PM on February 16, 2008


As a less drastic step, you could at least try eating somewhere where a meal costs < $10. It's easy if you're willing to give up table service and "atmosphere," and I've known a few places with table service even and still under $10. Believe it or not, the food can be quite good and you won't get food poisoning.

The conflation of price with quality is perditious in our society.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:55 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Two dollars for per person per day for food and disposable goods like toilet paper, soap, shaving cream, and toothpaste? Are you insane? This is not doable.

Sure it is. It might help that we live in the South and prices might be better than where you are.
posted by konolia at 5:02 PM on February 16, 2008


Heh, I sometimes skip meals, but I don't think I'd want to move to that as a way of life, and I certainly don't do it to stay thin! Rather, if I do do it to stay thin, I'm making a poor show of it. Besides, look at me. Here I am saying how easy it is to eat well in Chicago for under $25 a meal, and I had a lunch that ran to $33, $8 of which was tax and tip. Of course, by my standards it was very indulgent, as I do not normally have an appetizer and a dessert with my meals.

I shouldn't get to have more rights than someone else just because I have more stuff and a more stable life.

Uh, that's pretty much how it seems to work now. pyramid termite is arguing for making it more explicit and arguably more humane, but I don't think he's advocating something that is really very much at odds with our current reality. Maybe it's at odds with our rhetoric, but that's another thing entirely.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:03 PM on February 16, 2008


Bag of lentils: Less than a dollar.

Polish sausage: About two fifty. Cheaper if on sale or if there's a coupon.

Small can of tomato sauce. 25-35 cents. (generic.)

Onion. (I forget but, obviously cheap.)

Garlic powder, salt, pepper, bayleaf.

Slice up the kielbasa, throw it in the pot with water, lentils, tomato sauce, and an onion for flavor. Carrots too if you like, whatever. Cook it till it's mushy.

Serve with homemade bread, or homemade biscuit, or alone.

That pot will last a LOOOONG time.
posted by konolia at 5:06 PM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Gravel in the road: FREE!
posted by panamax at 5:12 PM on February 16, 2008


why scratch around for free gravel when you can go to dumpsters and get free, delicious food? - the only drawback is you end up having to adopt any babies you find in there
posted by pyramid termite at 9:24 PM on February 16, 2008


But don't you insinuate for one moment that I didn't work my ass off to get to where I am today.

I didn't. I was merely pointing out that all the planning and hard work in the world doesn't guarantee success. I know a guy who got up before the sun rose each and every day to work 12 hours roofing homes. Worked his ass off. So what happened? He fell off the roof. Three stories. No insurance, (I guess he should have thought of that before!). Now what is his family supposed to do? They're fucked.

No such thing as luck. Unless you want to rename it grace.

Fuck that. You tell that guy's wife and four children that. "Awe shucks, I guess God just wasn't smiling on you. Maybe you shoulda' prayed more." Maybe if your fucking pedantic invisible man in the sky weren't such an asshole, we wouldn't need to have these conversations.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:49 PM on February 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


So he shattered the myth that there's no upward mobility for a white man with a master's degree in the US?
posted by mobunited at 10:26 PM on February 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


To everyone berating this guy for his ignorance of the psychology of poverty, perhaps you need to approach him with the same kind of humility and empathy you would ask him to show others. That might actually advance the debate instead of stranding it in socialist-vs-libertarian land.
posted by shivohum at 10:57 PM on February 16, 2008


I'm not out to have a debate with him, or a discussion. There's a terrible sense in this country that, because everybody's entitled to have their own opinion, we must necessarily suffer fools gladly. The result is noise. Lot and lots of noise. And he's just adding to it, clogging our ears with the sounds someone makes when they play 10 months worth of a dilettante's game of poverty, fulfilling his own expectations while naively assuming that a vacation from wealth is the same thing as being poor. We need spend no more time with him than we need spend with someone who went to Koh Samui for a few weeks and claim they now speak perfect Thai.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:25 AM on February 17, 2008 [5 favorites]


There's a terrible sense in this country that, because everybody's entitled to have their own opinion, we must necessarily suffer fools gladly.

he's one of the few people in america who's ever been paid well for being homeless - he seems to be a privileged, manipulative jerk, but you greatly underestimate him if you call him a fool

And he's just adding to it, clogging our ears with the sounds someone makes when they play 10 months worth of a dilettante's game of poverty

but if barbara erenreich did this and came up with different conclusions, would you accuse her of being a dilettante?

because there is an alternative for a young man of his background that he could have followed - gotten a nice fat job, lived in a well insulated neighborhood, voted republican and said "fuck the poor, i'm not ever going to pay ANY attention to them" - but somehow trying to learn something first hand makes him more of a fool than someone who won't even look

i'd have to read the book before i came to a final judgment on whether his slumming was a flawed but somewhat educational effort or just noise - so would you
posted by pyramid termite at 6:35 AM on February 17, 2008


Nonsense. I don't need to read a book about why the world is flat to discover that, yes, I was right to begin with, it was round.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:43 AM on February 17, 2008


The (predictable) pile-on has come and gone.

Yes, Shepard's methods leave much to be desired, and his conclusion is probably valid only for a small minority of people, but there was one thing about his (summarized) experience that I thought rang true: spending habits are important. A lot of people who simply can't afford to buy beer, cigarettes, drugs, or lottery tickets buy them anyway. This is their own damn fault, not yours and not mine.

Fuck 23 year old white pretty-boy children of privilege telling people how easy it is.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 6:34 PM on February 15


Eponysterical.

a lot of people I know don't even have bank accounts and can't get any because of their credit

If you're referring to savings/checking accounts, if they can't get one, it's not because the system is failing them. It's because they've left accounts in the negative or bounced too many checks.

Folks with bad or no credit often can't get a bank account

Not how it works. Banks do not pull your reports from the "big three" credit bureaus when you open an account. I could have the world's shittiest credit, and I'd be able to walk into any bank and open a checking account tomorrow, as long as I hadn't bounced a lot of checks or left accounts with negative balances in my wake. If your bank does, for some unknown reason, pull an actual credit report, you can just walk into one of the other 99.9% of banks that don't.

Don't EVEN get me started on the bank account. For which, I will just say, you need a social security number.

No, you don't.

whatever constitutes your version of a halfway decent life

How about "not living in Penn Station"?
posted by oaf at 9:00 AM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


What the hell are you people eating? I'd be afraid of eating dinner at a restaurant that charged me $25.

Where the hell are you eating? Times Square?

The last time I cooked for a party I think I must have spent $50 for the ingredients for a chestnut soup which is about $9 per person.

You don't have to buy all your groceries at Whole Foods.

I can't tell whether you're trolling or not.
posted by oaf at 9:17 AM on February 17, 2008


I could have the world's shittiest credit, and I'd be able to walk into any bank and open a checking account tomorrow, as long as I hadn't bounced a lot of checks or left accounts with negative balances in my wake.

I know of several banks around here that want to see proof of employment before they will let you open an account, even if you have money in hand to deposit. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the same banks also run credit checks.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:43 AM on February 17, 2008


Banks do not pull your reports from the "big three" credit bureaus when you open an account.

Yes, they do. My current bank (well, credit union) would let you open an account if you credit is bad, but you pay an extra fee.

Don't EVEN get me started on the bank account. For which, I will just say, you need a social security number.

No, you don't.


Yes, you do. Have you opened a bank account in the last five years?
posted by dirigibleman at 11:09 AM on February 17, 2008


"To everyone berating this guy for his ignorance of the psychology of poverty, perhaps you need to approach him with the same kind of humility and empathy you would ask him to show others."

He is not ignorant. Ignorance can be remedied by being taught or shown something. No, he's stupid. Stupid is when you are shown and can see, but go on with your misunderstanding.

"A lot of people who simply can't afford to buy beer, cigarettes, drugs, or lottery tickets buy them anyway."

Yes. Why?
In the context of the previous statement, I can have a great deal of empathy for someone who doesn't know how to learn well, hasn't been shown good spending habits, and has not had productive behavior modeled for them in their formative years.

They might know smoking and drinking is bad for them, but they have not internalized it so it does not affect their behavior.
But teaching them is relatively straightforward because they are merely lacking in knowlege.

Teaching someone who already thinks they know all about something, that is far more challenging. And that is compounded when it is aggressively espoused and interferes with the process of teaching the poor.

Poor people are not puppies to have their noses rubbed in their mess. They're well aware their choices are their own responsibility. They just don't know a better way. It isn't enough to be told "you can buy day old bread instead of a pack of Kools."

Having data, merely possessing knowlege, is not the equivalent to unlearning a lifetime of habits nor relearning the habits you or I take for granted.

And it is not our knowlege, that we know not to drink, smoke, spend our money on gambling, that aids our success, it is habits and training and many other factors, including social and environmental factors, supporting bad habits. One can't simply abandon one's child if he is, let us say mentally ill, or one's parents or siblings because they have addictions or their lives contribute to your own disfunction.
Or rather, one can. And people have. But those tend to be less human choices.

And of course there are people who make money from the perpetuation of bad habits.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 11:30 AM on February 17, 2008


A lot of people who simply can't afford to buy beer, cigarettes, drugs, or lottery tickets buy them anyway. This is their own damn fault, not yours and not mine.

Or perhaps these are the goods that are most often advertised and made available for purchase in those neighborhoods. Have you ever walked through a poor urban neighborhood? You can much more easily find those things than fresh produce. I'm not excusing that behavior in its entirety, but simply putting the blame directly on them belies a certain naivete.

If you're referring to savings/checking accounts, if they can't get one, it's not because the system is failing them. It's because they've left accounts in the negative or bounced too many checks.

Again, talk a walk around a poor neighborhood. You don't see branches of large banks offering good terms. You see "payday loan" businesses, and banks with onerous requirements. And the kind of predatory practices that are largely to blame for the current mortgage crisis aren't limited to mortgages.
posted by mkultra at 11:42 AM on February 17, 2008


I don't like to discuss poverty with people who start from a default position of the poor being responsible for their own poverty. It is such a willfully, blissfully ignorant position, completely unrooted in reality, complete devoid of any research or life experience, based on hateful stererotypes and a weird sort of self-congratulation that if you're not poor, it must be because you don't make bad life choices, unlike those idiots. All I want to say is, you know, if you want to discuss poverty, try picking up a book on the subject before throwing yourself into the conversation. But then I discover that this is exact the sort of book they are likely to pick up, and it's just maddening.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:59 AM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oaf: try opening a bank account with no address. Then if you can, put your 100 bucks into it and watch the bank take $9.95 every month as a service charge, and if, by god, you bounce a cheque, watch the $35 penalty wipe out the rest of your savings. Banks make no money off the extremely poor and they'd rather not do business with them, and no one forces them to. The whole thrust of the comments above is that what you can do is not representative of what the homeless or poor can do.
posted by Rumple at 12:09 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Where the hell are you eating? Times Square?

Who eats in Times Square? That's just eeew. It's filled with unattractive people from outside the city. I really try not to ever go above 23rd street, unless it's for Korean or my therapist.

But I'm having a hard time understanding why people are having a hard time understanding that dinner is often over $25--at an inexpensive restaurant in new york (outside of chinatown), at the low end of the menu, an entree will run about $13, an appetizer $5 (remember, I'm starving because this is all I eat in a day), and a glass of wine about $7. That's easily over $25 with tax and tip.

You don't have to buy all your groceries at Whole Foods.

But Fairway is too far! Where else can I go? I can only imagine the look of hurt and betrayal if I ever served something to my friends that contained non-organic ingredients. They'd never eat anything I made again, and then I'd stop getting invited to parties.
posted by cytherea at 12:11 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


As someone who was a ward of the state at 12, got passed around various relatives' homes until her senior year, and lived on her own since 17 (since my drug-addicted mother wouldn't let me stay at her place in a new city because her boyfriend didn't like me), it's just as hard to "make it" as a woman, if not more so. I got a friend to drive me to the college I'd applied for (and worked two jobs in high school to save money for the application fees, as well as the car I'd had--and wrecked, and totaled--my senior year) and begged for a room-and-board loan.

Until I was 19, both of my parents were in and out of jail and rehab so much I seldom saw either once a year. If I was lucky.

I couch-surfed until school started. A few times a place wouldn't come through for me to stay, so I'd leave my bag with my two changes of clothes in it at the Greyhound station and walk around Deep Ellum until 6 a.m. or so, then walk over to the public library and give myself a spit bath in the sink and start the day.

I fended off rape and god knows what else at least three times that I can recall and have been mugged at least four times. I consider myself insanely lucky to have never been brutalized, beaten, raped or killed.

I worked 3 jobs in college, and had to walk to them. I finally was able to buy another car my junior year of college. Which was destroyed utterly by a guy swerving into me head-on the very next year.

So many setbacks; so much depression. I thought about giving up so many times.

I lived in a HUD project apartment with a foreign couple and an unwed mother with a newborn baby. My room was the corner of the living room with a twin mattress and a sheet taped around my space to the wall. Thank god my rent was only $80/month.

One of my jobs offered me a full-time position upon graduation. I was so lucky. It was only about $30,000 a year (in 1994) but it seemed like a million dollars to me. I got my OWN HUD project apartment, and two years later, finished going to school at night for my master's and began paying back the $46,000 in student loans I'd acquired.

I finally felt like I was "safe" the day I made my last student loan payment at 31.

At 35, I've escaped my terrible marriage to an ex who decided that, 8 years in, methamphetamines sounded fun; accepted the $30,000 in debt he saddled me with and somehow still managed to put together and keep my dream home.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, as a woman, the only choice I could see that I had from before I was even able to enter high school is: 1. stay alive, 2. work my ass off, and 3. never depend on another person, family or otherwise, because it can lead to betrayal. I didn't even get to graduate high school with a roof over my head, but am now better off than quite a few of my contemporaries.

I feel like no matter what, I can and will overcome. I will prevail. There have been many, many times when I felt like giving up, but principle 3 kept me going... nobody's going to rescue me. Nobody's going to take care of me, ever. And it's helped me get through some really rough patches in life. I also thank god every day for my life, my health, my friends and my accomplishments. I don't take anything for granted. I have never asked a family member for a dollar or a hot meal, and while there were times I wished things were different, the hardships I have had made me a better person.

My problem-solving and debt management skills are great. I doubt Mr. Shepard's experiences could ever give him the genuine sense of accomplishment people like me and Astro Zombie and many others in this thread genuinely feel. It's easy to get caught up in debating these experiences from a sociological point of view if you have never dealt with them first-hand; people whose idea of roughing it is having to cook and freeze meals themselves (i.e., Cytherea) don't know what it's like to hope you don't get arrested for bathing yourself in a public restroom or pass out from heatstroke while walking down the service lane of a major highway to your second six-hour shift after attending school all day.

And yes, I know you didn't ask for your place in this life. Neither did I, but I made a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Lots of women in my position would have put all their hopes in using their looks and feminine wiles to snag a man to look after them, which I find abhorrent. Looks are temporary and you should never place your financial stability or happiness on another person. Men typically don't have that option, either, so it hardly seems fair...
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:14 PM on February 17, 2008 [8 favorites]


They might know smoking and drinking is bad for them, but they have not internalized it so it does not affect their behavior.

Drinking is bad? And I'm not allowed to have a cigarette at parties anymore? Is that what you're saying? I'm not sure I like you now.
posted by cytherea at 12:22 PM on February 17, 2008


It's kind of great how cytherea's kittenish trolling bookended Unicorn's genuine response, making the latter shine all the brighter.
posted by hermitosis at 12:49 PM on February 17, 2008


Yes, you do. Have you opened a bank account in the last five years?

No, you don't need one if you go to Bank of America (they'll even let you have a credit card without a Social Security number). Have you read the news in the past year?

My current bank (well, credit union) would let you open an account if you credit is bad, but you pay an extra fee.

And like I said, you aren't forced to use that bank—you can use any of the hundreds of others that don't run a credit check.

I don't like to discuss poverty with people who start from a default position of the poor being responsible for their own poverty.

If you think you're talking about me, I'd suggest rereading what I wrote.

$9.95 every month as a service charge

It's trivial to find a bank or a credit union that will let you open a savings account (and usually a checking account) with no monthly fee, either without a minimum balance or with a minimum of $100 or $200. Even in Canada (where your profile says you're from), you don't have to pay $9.95 a month for an account.

if, by god, you bounce a cheque

You mean "if, by your own fault, you bounce a cheque."
posted by oaf at 1:50 PM on February 17, 2008


It's kind of great how cytherea's kittenish loathsome trolling bookended Unicorn's genuine response...
FTFY.
posted by GrammarMoses at 2:00 PM on February 17, 2008


And like I said, you aren't forced to use that bank—you can use any of the hundreds of others that don't run a credit check.

You know, if you've got bad enough credit or not enough money to use whatever bank is within walking distance, the advice to just go to another bank is rather absurd. Have you ever been poor? Because, unless you have, I'm not sure you're in a position to be offering insulting and useless advice.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:05 PM on February 17, 2008


In other words, your advice rather sounds like this: "Can't open an account. Well, simply have your mom drive you to another bank, and then, if they question your credit, just show them the $600 savings bond your father gave you when you had the big 16th birthday party at the club. Also, it's a good idea to get to be friends with your banker, so invite him out for a few holes of golf and share some tips on how to make a great Manhattan. No problem. It's your own fault if you don't do these things."
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:10 PM on February 17, 2008


You know, if you've got bad enough credit or not enough money to use whatever bank is within walking distance, the advice to just go to another bank is rather absurd.

If you live in a rural area, perhaps. But that doesn't apply to where you live, for instance.
posted by oaf at 2:11 PM on February 17, 2008


Your point? There are a lot of poor in rural neighborhoods. And there are a lot of poor in nieghborhoods that have only one or two banks nearby, all of which require credit checks. North Minneapolis, as an example.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:16 PM on February 17, 2008


Again, the type of check they perform won't show loans, but will show delinquent checking accounts. They don't check to see if you are carrying debt—they check to see if you've had accounts go into the negative and then abandoned them.
posted by oaf at 2:27 PM on February 17, 2008


Yes. And poor people often have histories of bad checks and unpaid bills. I know you think this is somehow their fault, but that doesn't help them at all.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:57 PM on February 17, 2008


What on earth does where Astro Zombie lives have to do with anything, oaf? Maybe you can only see the world with you at its centre, but some of the rest of the world are, indeed, concerned about people who are poor and homeless and can point to the general unavailability of banking services as one of the (many) problems they face. And seriously, you can't get a bank account without an address in most places, especially if you don't smell too great and haven't shaved. An if you're homeless, you don't have an address.

For that matter, if where people live is so germane, then put it in your profile. I'm guessing its someplace with a lot of self-satisfied yuppies and fratboys, and probably some obvious homeless people you look down on with distaste as you step over them on the way into starbucks.

Or, as Woody Guthrie says,
The only way we can ever beat
these crooked politician men
Is to run the money changers out of the temple
And put the Carpenter in

posted by Rumple at 3:04 PM on February 17, 2008


From the "Where would Jesus Borrow" thread, this may add something to the discussion on difficulties of poor/homeless accessing "bootstrapping" services. (actually, the whole thread is quite germaine to this one)
posted by nax at 3:30 PM on February 17, 2008


(On tobacco, booze, and lottery):
mkultra-Have you ever walked through a poor urban neighborhood? You can much more easily find those things than fresh produce

This is very true. When I still lived in CT the Hartford Courant did a great piece on how the state run Lottery Commission had a significantly broader set of information on poor populations than the Dept. of Social Services did. Unfortunately, this was written years ago and a search indexes each day's lottery results in Google so I was unable to find it.

Also, I'll join the group that doesn't entirely excuse this behavior. However, this falls again into what you were or were not taught growing up, and reinforces the idea that all upbringings are not created equal. A friend from a similar upbringing as mine and I were discussing this recently. He co-teaches a personal finance class to 20-somethings in the inner city. He was shocked to find out that their understanding of basic personal finance (opening a bank account, balancing a checkbook, creating a budget) was probably on par with what we had learned in our mid teens as we took our first jobs. There are no absolutes, but often times both bad habits and lack of awareness about good habits comes from your upbringing. Most people emulate their guardians more than they realize, particularly amongst the segment of society without the opportunity to use academia to gain knowledge outside of that available from family or friends.
posted by rollbiz at 3:42 PM on February 17, 2008


I wasn't even poor when I moved from MD to San Francisco, but I was unable to open a checking account. I had closed my account in MD, but one company (my gym) continued to charge the account - I had canceled the membership, but signals got crossed somewhere and the gym kept charging me. I got it all straightened out, eventually, but the "bad checks" written on my (closed) account stayed on my record.

Fortunately, my girlfriend had an account with a bank and she was able to open an account with both of our names on it.

I wasn't poor, I have a fancy college degree, I have lots of advantages, but it happened to me anyway. One of my big advantages was having a network of financially stable, responsible family and friends, which allowed me an easy (relatively speaking) workaround to the problem. One of the most difficult things about living in poverty is that most of the people around you are also living in poverty. With everyone in a given network always on the brink of financial disaster, it's much much easier for any one person in the network to fall off the edge. A group of financially stable people can easily absorb a few of its members having (temporary) financial difficulties; but in a network made of brinkdom and instability, you really can't afford to lend your brother-in-law $25 so his electricity won't be shut off because you still need to buy diapers for the baby, or put gas in your car so you can get to work, or you need it to pay down what you owe the check-cashing place for your last advance, because you're going to be taking your next paycheck in there, and you'll need another advance.
posted by rtha at 3:52 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


(I'd also just like to say that I've really enjoyed the conversation and the stories in this thread)
posted by rollbiz at 4:01 PM on February 17, 2008


kittenish loathsome trolling
FTFY.


But I wasn't trolling. I was poking fun at my own privilege, how I find life to be a difficult struggle with all the advantages of education, and never having to worry about money with work that, while intellectually challenging, pays very well and affords plenty of free time and prestige. Living in a bubble makes it easy to forget just how grossly unlevel the playing field is, and how difficult it is to survive without all these things that one can take for granted so easily. Unicorn on the cob's story was tremendously moving, and I feel ashamed and flighty and foolish that my life has been so comparatively easy.

If that is loathsome, well, you must be terribly fun at parties.

What I find to be truly loathsome are the people who suggest that the poor are responsible for their own poverty; that when they indulge in the same vices we do, they're being irresponsible; that if we decry predatory lending or subsidized processed foods pumped full of corn syrup or the lottery is a tax on the poor we're being anti-freedom and elitist by suggesting the poor are too irresponsible to choose what's in their best interest. Ronald Reagan invented the welfare queens of of whole cloth. These people don't believe these things--they're just using any available rhetoric to further their bottom-feeding goals of rapacious capitalism.

Adam Shepard is a loathsome, loathsome person whose adventure in poverty ends with his abject failure to handle the first real curve ball life throws at him--which was exactly the conclusion of Ehrenreich's book. For him to claim this as proof of social mobility and that the poor are poor because they lack character is disgusting.

But then, if we try to suggest that perhaps the Iraqi people might prefer that their country not suffer a bloody invasion, well, then that's just liberal racist elitism claiming they're not sufficiently civilized for democracy.
posted by cytherea at 4:13 PM on February 17, 2008


I thought I'd pass this along in regards to the no-SSN bank account. It's one of the first hits that you get from googling "opening a bank account without a social". Most interesting is that this anecdote isn't framed as a Consumerist-esque breach of consumer protection law, but rather a victory for those who don't want to give out there socials when they don't need to. If that is what it takes to open a bank account with, I really doubt anyone who is poor is going to be able to get an account without a social.
posted by Weebot at 4:27 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was poking fun at my own privilege... Living in a bubble makes it easy to forget just how grossly unlevel the playing field is, and how difficult it is to survive without all these things that one can take for granted so easily. Unicorn on the cob's story was tremendously moving, and I feel ashamed and flighty and foolish that my life has been so comparatively easy.

I wish you had said that earlier instead of yukking it up about $50 chestnut soup and whatnot. I live in Manhattan too; I know how expensive it is, and I also know plenty of people who don't bat an eye at the insane prices. I apologize if I misread you.

Also, I am hilarious at parties.
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:26 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm sure you must be, what with that finely-tuned sense of irony. ;)
posted by cytherea at 5:31 PM on February 17, 2008


You don't need a hyphen between "finely" and "tuned." :-)
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:39 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


cytherea: I could play with those charts and graphs all day. I've been moving my cursory around the "How Class Works" bar graph-matrix for the last 5 minutes without really looking at what the chart's actually about. I need better things to do with my Sunday evenings.
posted by Weebot at 5:49 PM on February 17, 2008


I may not need it there, but I can't help it if I want it there.
posted by cytherea at 5:51 PM on February 17, 2008


I know you think this is somehow their fault, but that doesn't help them at all.

Unpaid bills, no. Bad checks, yes.

What on earth does where Astro Zombie lives have to do with anything, oaf?

My point was that what he was talking about wasn't even true where he lives.

if you're homeless, you don't have an address

Some shelters will let you use them as a c/o address.

I'm guessing its someplace with a lot of self-satisfied yuppies and fratboys, and probably some obvious homeless people you look down on with distaste as you step over them on the way into starbucks.

When I go to Starbucks (which I do only when I forget to bring my morning coffee from home, and only because I keep getting Starbucks gift cards, the eventual use of which probably perpetuates the belief that I would spend my own money at Starbucks more than once a month, if that) I do usually pass quite a few homeless people. But I certainly don't look down on them, and unless they're harassing me for whatever reason, it's not like they even so much as inconvenience me.

But go ahead and attack me because you don't want to believe that what I'm saying is true.

signals got crossed somewhere and the gym kept charging me

Oh, I'm sure they knew exactly what they were doing. Gyms frequently make unauthorized debits to people's accounts after they've canceled their membership.
posted by oaf at 6:08 PM on February 17, 2008


Oh, and I don't believe it's come up specifically, but I'd love to see payday lenders made illegal or at least made to comply with usury laws.
posted by oaf at 6:13 PM on February 17, 2008


never having to worry about money with work that, while intellectually challenging, pays very well and affords plenty of free time and prestige

What is it...that you do....again? I'm very curious.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:35 PM on February 17, 2008


"Drinking is bad? And I'm not allowed to have a cigarette at parties anymore? Is that what you're saying? I'm not sure I like you now."
posted by cytherea

You liked me before? Aww, shucks.
Clearly: buying them in excess and/or to the exclusion of other choices as an example of a poor pattern in buying habits. Not the substances themselves.


"What I find to be truly loathsome are the people who suggest that the poor are responsible for their own poverty"posted by cytherea

I do agree with everything you have said. Allow me to introduce another perspective. I'm unclear on the "excuse the behavior" concept. I would suggest that, strictly speaking, the poor are responsible for their own poverty. That it is possible through great sacrifice and effort to rise above certain limitations.

But I would assert that not everyone is capable of such herculean efforts and, as a metaphor, there is often less than one tenth of a second difference between a gold medal, and nothing. One minor impediment for someone who is in a relatively stable environment can be catastrophic for someone whos life is under great stress.

The circumstances often dictate choices but that does not absolve responsibility when the "wrong" choice is made. It is still a failure.
Where the flaw lies in the dismissal. As though either excusing the behavior or assigning blame is equivalent to a solution.

So, even if poor people are poor because of a character flaw (and to be clear I do not believe that to be so) one must then as why they have such character flaws and what can be done to remedy them.

Similarly, if one completely excuses the behavior of a poor man as a response to his environment (and I don't), one must still question the factors that lead to such a state of affairs.

What I find disagreeable about Shepard is not that he supports either idea, but that his inquiry is not a real one and is ultimately dismissive. I'm not sure he can be accused of holding an ideology that urges such. I don't know his soul. But clearly that is his attitude.


If one's car breaks down on the side of the road, the fault may lie with the mechanic or a flaw in manufacture, but one does not settle the matter, curse Ford motors, say, and then abandon the vehicle.

Any ideology whether a perfect mirror of reality or one more suited to the fun house, must refine itself in action and practical consequences.

In that, I think, we can see just how little real help impoverished people recieve whatever our thoughts are on their condition.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 7:02 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I may not need it there, but I can't help it if I want it there.

Once again: Sheer wastefulness.
posted by GrammarMoses at 7:13 PM on February 17, 2008


HVAC Guerilla: I would suggest that, strictly speaking, the poor are responsible for their own poverty.

But even a statement like this doesn't hold up to much scrutiny, even if you take out all of the moral connotations the word "responsible" brings with it (which is still a very generous reading). It's hard to make a reasonable argument that children or the mentally ill, two groups that show up in significantly higher proportions in low-income populations, are responsible for their poverty except in the most abstract and semantic sort of way. Their chances of attaining even the preconditions of social mobility—getting to the starting line of that race for the goal, as it were—range from impossible to near-impossible.

You can rhetorically exclude these populations, say that those aren't the people you're talking about when you talk about people with "bad habits" (which is a somewhat delineation to begin with), but on a policy level we treat them the same more often than not. Programs we cut under the rationale that we need to help the poor become self-sufficient almost always affect those who are fundamentally incapable of self-sufficiency.
posted by Weebot at 7:57 PM on February 17, 2008


Race for the gold. somewhat disingenuous delineation. I really need to proofread my posts.
posted by Weebot at 8:05 PM on February 17, 2008


A lot of people who simply can't afford to buy beer, cigarettes, drugs, or lottery tickets buy them anyway. This is their own damn fault, not yours and not mine.

And I would say it's not that simple. There are many reasons why people do this. Because they value more what brings them tangible pleasure in the moment, and what they can rely on to make them happy. Beer, cigarettes, drugs, filling fast food, the hope of a lottery ticket...for under $5 these things can bring you tangible pleasure. Saving that $5? Why would you do that when the system is just going to mess you over, and this you know from longtime experience? It's like that experiment where poor black kids were told they'd get more treats if they waited but they never wanted to wait, and took what they could get up front. If you can't see life past 35, why wait?

Why are the poor begrudged their happinesses? It's not like they're the only ones who buy alcohol (just not wine and champagne), or smoke cigarettes, or take drugs (legal and illegal), or gamble (you have your Monte Carlos, the poor have Atlantic City). It's just that these pleasures cost the poor so much more...but that's because they have so much less. So the moralistic judge them and say they should go without these simple pleasures while leading a life the rich wouldn't be able to stomach without a credit card in the back pocket.

If you're referring to savings/checking accounts, if they can't get one, it's not because the system is failing them. It's because they've left accounts in the negative or bounced too many checks.

Then maybe there is a larger system that is failing them. One bad break, and yeah, you go negative and bounce checks. I lost two bank accounts and am very happy to have a third I've held onto for a few years now. I was riding high, employed and happy. Then got hit with the bipolar bug, didn't know it, and lost everything including my job and sanity. Ended up in mental hospital, no income. Bills still coming through, didn't catch them all, bank account does the bounce and no hope for recovery. Got better for a little while, worked a while, started spending money again, UH OH sick again, waiting on Social Security (which takes a while but bills don't wait), lost another bank account.

It is not hard to live above your means when your means are so small and tenuous.

If your bank does, for some unknown reason, pull an actual credit report, you can just walk into one of the other 99.9% of banks that don't.

But there's only one bank in your neighborhood...and you don't have a car....it's the bank that caters to people like you which is why it's in your neighborhood when the "better" banks aren't...the "better banks" that won't let you get your money without TWO forms of I.D. when you barely have one (for real? they expect a work ID? I don't work. A School ID with picture? Huh? A passport? never seen one. A credit card? Is this a joke? I just want my money..etc.)...
posted by Danila at 2:13 AM on February 18, 2008


Cytherea, if you have to BREAK CHARACTER to explain your previous comments, you may not have been contributing anything worth reading.
posted by mek at 2:57 AM on February 18, 2008


What is it...that you do....again? I'm very curious.

Othingnay ecialspay, utbay ickquay entificationiday ightmay ollowfay. Erhapspay ivetlypray.

You liked me before? Aww, shucks.

Well, perhaps I could be so persuaded again if I'm allowed my petty indulgences.

But I would assert that not everyone is capable of such herculean efforts...

I'm rather doubtful, being such a high-maintenance hot-house flower, I would be able to get out of poverty, let alone survive, given how monumental I find my trivial obstacles. But I think perhaps less of us could than think we would. And when people of means blame the poverty on the poor, that strikes me as hypocrisy of the highest order.

Once again: Sheer wastefulness.

I can't even do my own laundry, and you want me to proofread all by myself?

if you have to BREAK CHARACTER to explain your previous comments, you may not have been contributing anything worth reading.

But I was never in any character other than my own--my ridiculous way of living (and personality!) is not a fabrication. And if you find that shocking--you should: because by manhattan standards, I'm really rather spartan. The rabbit hole of wealth and privilege is deeper than any of us can see or even imagine. We should all find that shocking. The rich do not deserve to have billions of times the wealth of the poor, no matter how artfully their public relations people cast their argument.

And I would certainly never suggest that anything I write is worth reading. That's the purview of the reader, though I do apologize if I've forced you to read my frivolous blather. I do rather doubt though, given how often metafilter can make me feel stupid, that this audience would have too much trouble with my indirect manner of speech. Actually, though, I'm not sure that being direct would allow me to communicate more clearly, especially in matters, such as this, perhaps, where we're really not allowed to say what we would like.
posted by cytherea at 7:23 AM on February 18, 2008


Erhapspay ivetlypray.

Thanks...uh, ay. ;-)
posted by adamdschneider at 7:56 AM on February 18, 2008


There are so many contradictory fundamentals in any discussion by westerners, and Americans in particular, about poverty. Our religionist roots, depending on whether your a Calvinist or a Puritan, tell you that on the one hand, your station in life is a part of god's plan, and you have no control over it, or on the other side, that your destiny is your own, and your failures in life or your own fault. So right from our early history, we've got these two warring concepts about whether you can make it or not.

Layer onto this our "bootstrapping" mythology, and yep-- if you're poor it's your own fault, because in Murka anyone can grow up to be president/a millionaire.

In the last 50 years Yankee thrift has been replaced as a virtue with a consumerist ethos that defines success, (and lately patriotism), by what you can buy, and then gives you the means via easy credit, or the promise of those means through such things as the lottery. So people equate ownership with success and shrug off the idea of whether they can afford it or not.

So should poor people be buying things they don't "need"-- cigarettes, lottery tickets, $200 jeans? Of course not. But everything in our society tells them that buying=virtue, and that anyone can make it, and that it's all god's plan so why suffer because you can't win, and that The Man has it in for you. Our society is just such a huge bundle of contradictions and narrow-minded self-interest that the common good, not to mention common sense, are just casualties.
posted by nax at 9:53 AM on February 18, 2008


It's worth knowing that in Denmark, being on the dole includes vouchers for 2 Tuborgs a day. (Tuborg is a brand of beer; a single voucher entitles you to 35 cl of lager beer.)
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:51 AM on February 18, 2008


nax: I don't think they're as contradictory as you say. Both of those threads of thought absolve earthly institutions—church, government, business, whatever institution is in power at the moment—of any responsibility in creating the conditions that allow poverty. The only difference is whether you're to blame or not. You can still see it today with the whole subprime loan industry, where it's pretty much undeniable that the whole thing was corrupt at a systemic level, yet we devote a disproportionate amount of ink and airtime (and government bailout money) to complaints about bad (former) homeowners.

When the poor grumble about the rich, it's called class warfare. But when the rich actually exploit the poor, it's called entrepreneurism.
posted by Weebot at 11:13 AM on February 18, 2008


that should be "but little government bailout money". Not "and"
posted by Weebot at 11:15 AM on February 18, 2008


there's only one bank in your neighborhood

Which won't refuse you a checking account for any reason other than writing bad checks.

One bad break, and yeah, you go negative and bounce checks.

One bad break? If you can't afford to pay the bills, you shouldn't be writing checks that can't possibly clear (since they ultimately won't pay the bills, and you'll owe the unpaid bill plus the huge returned check fee).

Writing checks you know won't clear is not a sign that the system is failing you, it's a sign that you either don't know how to use a checkbook or are purposely misusing it.
posted by oaf at 11:24 AM on February 18, 2008


Oaf: You're presuming a level of personal finance education that many people simply don't have. Rollbiz already touched on this topic upthread. And it's not like personal finances is a topic that people are angling to get into public school curriculum, let alone inner-city public school curriculum that are already stretched thin.

You could blame them for not knowing and say that they should know, but that doesn't go anywhere towards solving the problem.
posted by Weebot at 11:55 AM on February 18, 2008


Which won't refuse you a checking account for any reason other than writing bad checks.

C'mon, several people asked you about this canard already. Maybe not refuse you. Is there a law that NO bank can refuse a checking account (or even a savings account) for any reason other than writing bad cheques? Is that a fact?

Others have suggested they can, and do, refuse for such reasons as not having a fixed address, having a fixed address that is a homeless shelter, not having two pieces of government I.D., etc. Frankly I think you are projecting your comfortable experience with banks to places it is unwarranted. So, please, show some evidence the poor "won't be refused" or stop making facile generalizations on the basis of no evidence. Really, I'd welcome it.
posted by Rumple at 12:16 PM on February 18, 2008


“And when people of means blame the poverty on the poor, that strikes me as hypocrisy of the highest order.”

And

“But even a statement like this doesn't hold up to much scrutiny, even if you take out all of the moral connotations the word "responsible" brings with it...”

Certainly. I have to agree with that.
But my position was not meant to explore where responsibility lies, but to point up the perspective ofwhy summation and dismissal fail, no matter where those explorations lead.
If you take my meaning.

“...getting to the starting line of that race for the gold, as it were—range from impossible to near-impossible.”

I think my car analogy is clearer. The point I was seeking to illustrate was that a threadbare margin of difference, a chance wind current, a slightly better toe grip, separate gold medal winners from athletes who get nothing at all for nearly identical effort under tremendous stress.
Similarly, one slight misstep for someone who is living under tremendous stress, a bounced check, a broken car window, can and does lead to a chain of events (pneumonia, perhaps) that can lose the race.
The inference is also that gold medal winners are as few and far between as people who lift themselves out of abject poverty.

Also implied is that while we cast aspersions on those who are poor for not making more of an effort, we rarely question why we ourselves are not performing at absolute peak levels, making supreme efforts.
So: why is Shepard not an olympic athlete? Why does he not have a doctorate? Why isn’t his goal a Nobel prize? If he knows so much about finance, why isn't he a billionaire?

We recognize people who achieve at such high levels without recognizing the appaling degree of sacrifice required. As though there was some inherent trait they possessed. Clearly they possess knowlege we do not have, put in far greater effort than we are willing to put forth and, importantly, their goals and what they value are different than what we value so they make sacrifices we are not willing to make. /I would not, for example, remove myself from the lives of my children for the amount of time generating great wealth would take.

This is true in the negative sense as well. The idea that poor lack whatever it is we have to achieve our success. When the reality is many of us stand on the backs of gigantic efforts.

“Programs we cut under the rationale that we need to help the poor become self-sufficient almost always affect those who are fundamentally incapable of self-sufficiency.”

Precisely. My conclusion is that the ideology we bring to the table, any ideology, the rationale we use to bring to fruition a given outcome is always going to be arbitrary.
The issue needs to be looked at empirically, with an eye to solving poverty and how to create mechanisms by which, as you astutely point out, people who are fundamentally incapable of self-sufficiency can be supported.
Not to force people into some kind of behavior we think they should have nor to absolve them of anything whether they need absolution or not. And, of course, without thinking oneself superior for avoiding poverty or making “bad decisions” or thinking oneself as charitable or even as an other.

Functionally on the broad scale there is little statistical difference between one human being and another.

So what is needed is a recognition of a flaw in the system not only in meeting certain human needs but in recognizing certain human realities. A sort of fixing of the social machine. So that aid can be rendered without condemnation or absolution or self-aggrandizement.
Again, that is an exploration of one aspect of a perspective on this, not a refutation of any given position other than Shepards and what is seen as a sentiment in society at large.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 12:45 PM on February 18, 2008


Others have suggested they can, and do, refuse

But not proven. I don't have to refute what you haven't shown.
posted by oaf at 4:22 AM on February 19, 2008


There is no single set of rules for banks. It’s rather arbitrary and at the bank’s discretion. So that argument could go either way.
There are minimum thresholds maintained by law, however.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 8:42 AM on February 19, 2008


Man, I am embarrassed by the comments here about this guy. When I came over here from JD's blog post and interview I thought "wow, I must have really read that wrong, or the CSM article must really revel this guy to be a naive jerk. So when I got down here to the bottom I went back up and read the article. Then the first chapter.

I'll confess that I didn't bother to watch the youtube video, but am still ready to conclude that some of you are really jerks.

All this OutrageFilter and dismissal of his book and what he has to say I can get - this is a charged subject and it gets me worked up too. But all the hate and bile and nasty condemnations? I don't understand it.

I've got no doubt a bunch of douchebags are going to make hay with this subject and draw stupid conclusions that ignore all the things that have been pointed out upstream - he's young, white, has an education and a history of success, is healthy and can take a strenuous physical job, etc etc. However nothing I have seen him write or say in the CSM or JD's interview sounded even close to dismissive or claiming that Anyone Can Do It. I see him saying that attitude matters, goals matter, opportunities exist for those who can go after them.

Nothing in what I've read of his so far has condemned one single person, real or abstract. He praises a number of people he met along the way and the closest thing he comes to anything I see people heaping on him here is the statement that no assistance program is enough on its own, a statement that my left-of-center self finds not at all insulting or unrealistic.

If anything I think the people reasoning badly are a bunch of you. Yes, he has his advantages that help him succeed. If you'd put down your angry insults and death wishes for a minute you might see how useful this story and work is for sides other than the conservative jerk. He succeeds because he's been armed ahead of time with health, education, success, and hope. His story is a demonstration that there's a lot of potential to impact people's lives early on, and that we can invest in people at a young age and get a life-long payoff.

Or you could just rant and rave and call it shit and be a child. But the next time you wonder why the American Right controls the dialog on so many issues, make sure you take a moment to look in the mirror and accept your share of the blame.
posted by phearlez at 2:59 PM on February 19, 2008


The recurring thing that he does, and that the "Get Rich Slowly" blog does, is repeat this myth that Ehrenreich hates hope, or that she wanted to fail, or that she had an agenda—a "Marxist screed," that Get Rich guy calls it.

That's part of what pissed me off—the fundamental misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Ehrenreich. Other things that annoyed me? The attitude of exceptionalism, the undercurrent of Calvinism, the absolute ignorance and obscuring of circumstance, and the lack of a broader picture. I don't necessarily begrudge him his success here, but I'm annoyed at the repeated implication that anyone could do it, or that he'd succeeded to the level of stability where he wouldn't have to worry about ending up at the homeless shelter again. The vast majority of poor people are poor only sporadically, and those that are poor long-term tend to fall outside of this meager sample—and into what Ehrenreich was describing. I think her conclusion, that it pretty well sucks to be poor, was a little simplistic and I resented the didacticism of its presentation—it was already familiar and obvious to anyone who's been poor, and that felt condescending. But the conclusion that seems thrust out of his book is just as odious, and more likely to be used to the detriment of people who are already vulnerable.
posted by klangklangston at 3:49 PM on February 19, 2008


His story is a demonstration that there's a lot of potential to impact people's lives early on, and that we can invest in people at a young age and get a life-long payoff.

But that doesn't seem to be what he's saying (I have not read the book). He seems to be saying that it really is just a matter of having the right priorities in life, something which would be nice if it were true, but isn't the same thing as saying let's invest in people early.
posted by cell divide at 3:53 PM on February 19, 2008


I would have to agree with klangklangston. The venom isn't directed at Shepard per se.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 9:43 PM on February 19, 2008


I don't necessarily begrudge him his success here, but I'm annoyed at the repeated implication that anyone could do it, or that he'd succeeded to the level of stability where he wouldn't have to worry about ending up at the homeless shelter again.

I have seen that nowhere in the published comments from him, only from people here.

But the conclusion that seems thrust out of his book is just as odious, and more likely to be used to the detriment of people who are already vulnerable.

The comic thing is that the only people I see repeating this line over and over are people who think that poverty is a complex issue that needs addressing. But all that's here is knee-jerk hate and bile targeted at this dude because of what people either (a) think he must mean because he engaged in this experiment and wrote about it or (2) what simpletons are going to use it to argue.

Again I say, it's no wonder the 'other side' is owning the language and winning the debate.

I would have to agree with klangklangston. The venom isn't directed at Shepard per se.

His patronizing attitude is pretty infuriating.

A case of self promotion to sell a book.. I really don't like this guy, and his situation proves NOTHING!

What an asshole. [snip] If there's a lesson here, it's that our bottom-tier colleges are turning out sheltered, uneducated students who lack both intellect and empathy.

What a smug, self-satisfied, privileged piece of shit.

Fuck that guy, seconded.

Challenge to Mr. Twat-head:


he seems to be a privileged, manipulative jerk

That's about the halfway point.
posted by phearlez at 8:38 AM on February 20, 2008


"I have seen that nowhere in the published comments from him, only from people here."

Then you didn't read that Get Rich Slowly blog entry you linked to.

"Of course it’s easy for me to say it was easy. I had a goal. I was out to prove a point. I had the mentality and I knew what I had to do to get the results I wanted.

But what surprised me most, and what makes my story so fascinating, is that so many people around me were doing the same thing.
" (emphasis his).

The implication there, and at many other points in the interview, is that anyone could do it with the proper attitude.

"In the end, I discovered that both Ehrenreich and I have valid points. But there is a stark difference in her attitude. She postured to fail, and she did. I postured to succeed, and I did."

Here he is, claiming success, but without any qualifiers about what he actually did—he didn't escape poverty, and he didn't keep going when one of his family members got sick. Having $2500 in the bank means that he's still one injury, one illness, one accident away from the shelter.

"The comic thing is that the only people I see repeating this line over and over are people who think that poverty is a complex issue that needs addressing. But all that's here is knee-jerk hate and bile targeted at this dude because of what people either (a) think he must mean because he engaged in this experiment and wrote about it or (2) what simpletons are going to use it to argue."

First off, I can't take responsibility for the other comments here. Second off, you're mischaracterizing a huge portion of them—most have noted that this guy is naive and that his assumptions about poverty are simplistic. And I do see a facile treatment coming out of the Get Rich Slowly interview.
posted by klangklangston at 9:45 AM on February 20, 2008


The implication there

*GONG* You can keep reading whatever you want into it, but nowhere does he say that anyone can do it. Given that his reaction is to Ehrenreich and what he perceives as her position that -nobody- can do it, there isn't much reason to assume he's doing anything other than refuting that.

First off, I can't take responsibility for the other comments here.

Exactly when did anyone ask you to?

Second off, you're mischaracterizing a huge portion of them

Nope. My precise statement was All this OutrageFilter and dismissal of his book and what he has to say I can get - this is a charged subject and it gets me worked up too. But all the hate and bile and nasty condemnations? I don't understand it.

Discussing the matter, what his experiment proves, implies, and fails to address - all reasonable and worth doing. As I said, people are going to make hay with this. Being abusive and hateful does nothing except help prove their point, if only by providing obnoxious behavior that will be claimed to imply that the person spewing bile has nothing cogent to respond to in argument to those points and so is only attacking the messenger.

And we know people are more than willing to claim that something implies things in the absence of hard facts, don't we now?

Here he is, claiming success, but without any qualifiers about what he actually did

Except in so far that he clearly states that his goal was to own a vehicle and have a certain quantity of cash. He achieved that goal. You and others are completely correct in stating that he did not do N other things, but he never claimed he did.

You also trim out, from the same paragraph, I wanted to believe that there were people living in these tumultuous circumstances who weren’t living the life of cyclical misery that Ehrenreich was writing about. So I sought a discovery of my own with this project.

He speaks with respect and admiration of plenty of people along the way, and described with empathy the unpleasant childhoods others have had. If you want to state that he's missing the big picture you can do so, but nothing in his statements or writing indicated that the bigger picture was what he was looking into or attempting to make a statement about.
posted by phearlez at 10:14 AM on February 20, 2008


klangklangston wrote: The recurring thing that he does, and that the "Get Rich Slowly" blog does, is repeat this myth that Ehrenreich hates hope, or that she wanted to fail, or that she had an agenda—a "Marxist screed," that Get Rich guy calls it.

"Get Rich guy" here.

If it's a myth that Ehrenreich hates hope, it's one she propagates herself. And it's no myth that Ehrenreich had an agenda. Have you even read Nickel and Dimed? She's the one who brings up Marxism. She's the one who mentions class warfare. Ehrenreich is a Socialist -- which is fine, I have nothing against that -- and she's doing her best to push her goals.

I don't believe that Adam Shepard is a saint. In many ways he's naive. But I do believe he has good intentions. So much of what has been written in this thread is bizarre. It in no way represents Shepard or his attitude. You all have constructed a demon out of whole cloth and then piled on him. That's great, but it's not Shepard. He doesn't say "anyone can do it". That's something you guys have invented for him. He says "some people can do it". (Ehrenreich, on the other hand, seems to be saying "noone can do it".)

As per your second comment, kk, the emphasis on the one quote was mine, not Adam's. I altered it to make the entry scannable. And you're wrong -- Shepard is the first to issue qualifiers about his success. He understands that he comes from a position of privilege, but how can he possibly remove that factor from this experiment? He can't. He's doing the best with what he has.
posted by jdroth at 7:34 AM on February 22, 2008


"If it's a myth that Ehrenreich hates hope, it's one she propagates herself."

That's such a stupid misreading of that Ehrenreich essay that it's either an intentional misrepresentation or you haven't made it past the title. Ehrenreich is against a simplistic hope in the absence of action. She believes than an excessive reliance upon hope saps agency, and doesn't lead to results, in cancer or in finance. She's arguing against schemes like "The Secret," not against any hope in general.

"He understands that he comes from a position of privilege, but how can he possibly remove that factor from this experiment? He can't. He's doing the best with what he has."

Uh, he could do an actual social science experiment instead of an n=1 bullshit anecdotal narrative? I mean, "healthy white male momentarily without means manages to return to class of birth" isn't exactly a novel story in America, now is it?
posted by klangklangston at 10:21 AM on February 22, 2008


If JD's interpretation of that essay is an intentional misrepresentation then yours is, at least, an intentional over-estimation. Ehrenreich doesn't simply rail against counter-productive or excessive reliance on hope, she condemns it in all cases except those in which is is - in her estimation - based on objective reality.

The problem with this, particularly in the context of so many areas and subjects she's discussing there, including her own cancer, is that she 100% ignores a certain reality of life: that a tremendous amount of what happens in our lives is beyond our control. We can choose to make an effort to be enraged by it or be positive, and even stipulating to her claim that it makes no difference which mood we're in, which mental condition would you rather spend an hour in: enraged or hopeful?

She concludes her essay with this

I got through my bout of cancer in a state of constant rage, directed chiefly against the kitschy positivity of Amer­ican breast-cancer culture. I remain, although not absolutely, certifiably, cancer-free down to the last cell, at least hope-free. Do not mistake this condition for hopelessness, in the beat­en or passive sense, or confuse it with unhappiness. The trick, as my teen hero Camus wrote, is to draw strength from the "refusal to hope, and the un­yielding evidence of a life without con­solation." To be hope-free is to ac­knowledge the lion in the tall grass, the tumor in the CAT scan, and to plan one’s moves accordingly.


Putting aside, again, the false dichotomy she presents between planning one's choices accordingly and being optimistic, she has just described herself as having spent an entire period of illness full of anger over something else in addition to the cancer that she could do nothing about.

Just an hour ago I came across this parable in, of all places, SAMBA documentation. It's pertinent here, and represents the point Ehrenreich chooses not to understand or ignores in her essay.

Two men were walking down a dusty road, when one suddenly kicked up a small red stone. It hurt his toe and lodged in his sandal. He took the stone out and cursed it with a passion and fury befitting his anguish. The other looked at the stone and said, “This is a garnet. I can turn that into a precious gem and some day it will make a princess very happy!”

The moral of this tale: Two men, two very different perspectives regarding the same stone.


At the point where the stone can be examined, the pain has already been suffered and no reaction to the stone can alter it one iota. The afflicted man can revel in rage - potentially missing an important and life-improving fact - or not, but neither action will alter that pain. Ehrenreich can spend every day dwelling on a 51% chance of death, but nothing in that mental action will alter that percentage. Most scientific research points to the idea that concentrating on that 49% chance of survival instead improves your chance of being in that group, something she mentions and glosses over.

Given all of that I think it's very fair to say Ehrenreich hates hope. She seems unwilling to believe that given the choice between angry and hopeful that you may just as well be hopeful.
posted by phearlez at 10:28 AM on February 23, 2008


Here's the first review I've seen of Scratch Beginnings.
posted by jdroth at 12:51 PM on February 24, 2008


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