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« Cole, Gilpin, Burke & Romantic Evo-Bio | Main | Contempo Figurative Art »

August 11, 2003

Made Me Think

Friedrich --

You get older. You run into things you didn't expect. You try to learn.

* I was talking with a man who worked professionally with poor kids for many decades. According to him, it was the welfare programs of the '60s that created the underclass -- "underclass" in the sense of a population that relies on government help generation after generation. "It becomes their job, working the government for benefits. And they pass it along," he said to me.

* I ran across a lefty woman acquaintance. She'd just gotten back after a couple of years with Oxfam in Africa. "How'd it go?" I asked. "Did you manage to do some good?"

She gave me a look. "I'm not sure," she said.

"What do you mean?"

She explained. According to her, there's a terrible moral bind you get in when you try to help starving people. If you supply relief over and over, they not only start to expect it, they lose the ability to look out for themselves. "You'd be amazed how quickly they lose their skills," she said. "They forget how to feed themselves." Instead, they become specialists at getting themselves fed by other people. "And at that point, you're no longer doing good, really. You aren't helping them out in an emergency. You've simply become their regular food-provider. You've turned them into clients and dependents."

"But if you don't help out, they die, right? So what do you do?" I asked.

She shrugged. She'd thought about that too, she told me, and really didn't know what to say.

* Another lefty woman came to NYC full of feminist idealism and went straight into a job at an abortion center. Within a couple of years, she quit, horrified. "They didn't tell me what it's really like," she said to me.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

She explained. Many women having abortions endure not just physical pain but emotional hell. Their bodies have been preparing hormonally for birth, and when the process is brought forcibly to an end, it can feel like a car crash. And what's swept out of the uterus physically ... "I mean, there were little feet and fingers," my friend said. "No one had prepared me for any of that."

* An older man I know spent the '50s and early '60s as a hotheaded radical. In the mid-'60s, his moment came; he was thrilled by the announcement of the War on Poverty, and signed up to be a caseworker. Within a couple of years he turned on it entirely. Why? He told me that he found that the worthy recipients were outnumbered by the cheats, slackers and liars. He was angered as well by the huge bureaucracy he saw growing up. "They've got a vested interest in keeping the poor poor!" he thundered.

* A lefty lawyer friend confessed that he'd never hire a black lawyer to defend him in a truly serious case. I knew this friend wasn't racist -- he'd lived with a black girlfriend for a stretch. So I asked what his reason was.

"Affirmative action," he said. He said he'd seen too many black law students get by with lousy levels of performance. "I know it's unfair to be suspicious of all black lawyers because of that," he said. "And if I knew a black lawyer's work personally and knew it to be good I'd be thrilled to hire him. But if my life were on the line? And I was choosing from lawyers whose work I don't know? Pains me to say, but I'm going to be wary of the black ones."

* On a plane flight, and over drinks, a woman executive confided to me that she hated hiring female employees. "Why?" I asked, surprised.

"Two reasons," she said. "The first is that women tend to be emotional. If a man screws up, I can get mad at him and tell him to straighten out, and that's that. But if I get mad at a woman? The tears start up, and within a few minutes she's standing there saying, 'Can I close the door? We have to talk.' I waste a lot of time on their emotional problems, which I don't care about. At least 2/3 of the problems we deal with in our personnel department are women's."

"What's the second reason?"

"Second is that most women aren't really all that serious about working. I don't care what the feminists and journalists say. Many women still see working for a company as something they're going to do until they get a man to support them and they have babies. So I wind up putting a couple of years into getting a woman employee up to speed, and then a couple of years later she meets a guy and quits. It's a waste of my time. But I'm going to keep on doing it out of loyalty to women, and I'll deny ever having said what I just told you."

Before anyone leaps on me for being heartless and inhumane here, note please that I haven't drawn any conclusions from the forgoing. Well, that's being disingenuous. Here are a couple: life is more complicated than any political ideology allows for, and social-engineering programs (whether desirable or not) will generate a lot of unpredicted consequences.

Do you carry around a similar, informal list of Moments That Made You Think?

Best,

Michael

posted by Friedrich at August 11, 2003




Comments

One moment that "made me think" was during my senior year at our Lousy Ivy University when I spent most of a weekend with a friend of a friend. This guy was big, well set up, and generally self confident. He also had the most appalling, thuglike view of women I think I ever ran into (and I've known at least one pimp). It wasn't just talk, it was genuinely creepy. It was clear to me that this guy was a rape waiting to happen (or perhaps was happening on an ongoing basis.) But as I kept running into him around campus after that, I noticed that he was never short of female companionship. His girlfriends were typically very intelligent women with fairly strong feminist views (this was the Seventies, after all). All this certainly made me scratch my head when I heard the line later on that rape was a political device for keeping women in their place. Whatever it is, it's more complicated than that.

P.S. On the rare occasions I have brought this up, every time I've been accused of "blaming the victim." I think what I'm saying is a bit more nuanced than that, but, okay, I'm blaming the victim. Now what?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 11, 2003 11:57 AM



I don't think M Fv Blowhard are being unfair or inhumane. But it does prove to me once again how m-f'ing blind much of the world is. I could have told most of those people in this post most of what they observed when I was 18. Why?? Because my mother, a sheltered (although college educated) housewife from the midwest told ME. She was part of her ladies' church circle, who, mindlessly, year after year, used to do two things at Christmas: (1) take a full Christmas dinner to a needy family and (2) let the child of a needy family come stay (gasp!) at some nice upper middle class suburban home or wealthy home for the holidays. And she used to constantly bring up (to little avail in our church), "Are we really helping? What is help? Mightn't it be better to use the money for the fancy onetime Christmas dinner in some more productive way so they could eat more than once a year? And what have you done for this child---except expose him for a week to a much more comfy life and then say---'ok, enough of that--back to your rotting slum!' So...he can just be more discontented afterward??"

When she got in charge of her church circle, the one thing she focused readings etc. on week after week was: "What really is help?" Thanks, Mom.

And--as far as abortions go---that woman in Michael's post, forgive me, just sounds stupid. What did she think a medical procedure looked like? And, the fact that they are not pretty does NOT mean it's not still a woman's right to choose! (IMHO).

And--as far as FvB's rapist goes...well, I owe some thanks to my Mom again. As she said, "You put yourself in a compromising position often enough, and, sooner or later, you will be compromised." Women use bad judgement all the time, and if women want to be fully taken seriously in this world, it can't be un-PC to say---"well, so what WERE you doing back at his place at 2 am drunk??" And...that does NOT mean that a rape, did not, in fact, occur. But wouldn't it be better if the woman simply hadn't had to go through a rape at all, because she protected herself a little? However, the reason women may have been drawn to your particular example was not, I don't think, that they secretly were looking to get raped. (At least most of them). I think, unfortunately, that we do such a poor job in this country of raising genuinely interesting men (sorry guys--Blowhards aside, of course!) that women will overlook a lot of things (sometimes until it's too late) if they find someone who seems genuinely interesting in some ways. And I'll bet that guy could turn on the charm, whatever he said about women when they weren't there. (And, that works in reverse, too. What man, in his right mind, would spend 5 minutes with Julia Roberts, with her track record? Yet, they line up...).

Posted by: annette on August 11, 2003 2:13 PM



I know some Chicago lawyers (friends of my father). They have had many black defendants as clients. (One of them beat a murder rap for a leader of what was then the biggest street gang in Chicago.) And they all agreed that when a black criminal is going to trial, he says "Get me a honky judge!" Black judges were much harder on black criminals, they said - much less likely to to accept excuses or deceptive 'explanations' or shows of repentance; also much more likely to sympathize with black victims.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on August 11, 2003 6:37 PM



I was raised conservative but over a number of years, one uncomfortable step at a time moved toward the liberal side so I guess I have a number of such Moments but few I remember in detail.

The moment that made me change my mind about abortion came fairly early. I was still a teenager living with my parents. Up until that time I already had my mind made up that abortion was murder, no two ways about it. Then I heard this news brief on the radio - a 16 year old mentally retarded girl who was said to have the mind of an infant was pregnant as the result of a rape by a nursing home attendant. I immediately realized that abortion was the only humane choice. That was only one story; there are many others and no law can cover them all. Part of growing up is learning that life is complicated.

Re: the woman exective story: I hate working for women. I'll spare you my "dragon lady" stories. I don't expect the boss to be a friend but women bosses are far more likely to be control freaks than male bosses.

I guess you can tell I'm sort of down on women in general although I do know many individual women whom I like and admire. When it comes to romance I think women are especially blind and stupid. Most young women seem to expect real life to be just like the movies where the woman always gets a great looking guy she can wrap around her little finger. Real men, good or bad, don't know the script.

Posted by: Lynn S on August 11, 2003 10:16 PM



I actually had one recently. Growing up I saw a lot of US Aid products (mostly canned milk, or maybe it was already formula) being sold to the poor natives in the Amazon by the Catholic Church. That made me (us) pretty mad because it was printed right on the labels (in English, maybe in other languages, I'm not sure) that it was a gift from the people of the U.S. (This was about 40 years ago.)

At the same time we never gave anything of value away to the poor. The idea was if it was free, it would have no value and wouldn't get used appropriately. This was medicine, mostly, so it was important that the person getting it used it and used it up. (An odd side issue was that bad tasting medicines were more apt to be taken than good tasting ones... I guess if it tastes good it can't be good for you even in primitive cultures!) So Dad would always barter something, maybe a couple of chicken eggs, some fruit, or a bit of labor if someone in the patient's family was available. Experience did show that they were more apt to take medicine they paid for somehow, but it could still be a struggle. Once they felt better they tended to stop, so they'd relapse.

It never occurred to me until recently that maybe the Catholic Church was doing the same thing by charging for that baby stuff. It's possible, but the R.C. Church tended to be a bit backwards there, so I still rate it unlikely. But it never occurred to me that they might be thinking the same way.

Posted by: dan on August 11, 2003 10:38 PM



I'm pretty speechless here. These are all what I have heard The Left call "conservative tropes." Or more likely "memes" these days. Sometimes even ***I*** feel bad when I reflect on the absolute truths inherent in these folks' discoveries. I also feel bad, in a snickering childish way, that someone can grow of age without knowing that this is how those Big Ideas play out on the ground.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on August 11, 2003 11:34 PM



It's well established that because of the way our brains work, testimonial and anecdotal evidence tends to "feel" much more convincing than statistical data about any issue. Humans are storytellers: we relate to stories, we view reality through our stories. Several of these commentators have taken your stories to justify their pre-existing opinion that that self-righteous 'big society liberals' have made nothing but mess and done nothing but harm in their naive attempts to reform the world. Compelling anecdotes, sometimes distorted, sometimes simply invented, are often brought out to justify pre-existing opinions like that. I'm sure the 2004 campaign season in America will sprout a whole crop of new ones. Your own conclusion is a judicious one: everything is more complicated than it appears and we should be cautious. But that truth should not make us cynical and dismissive about attempts to help. Ultimately this goes back to the old antagonism between youthful exuberance and conservative experience that Emerson outlined.

Posted by: Seaweed Shark on August 12, 2003 1:03 AM



"Several of these commentators have taken your stories to justify their pre-existing opinion that that self-righteous 'big society liberals' have made nothing but mess and done nothing but harm in their naive attempts to reform the world."

Huh...I don't read that at all. But their plans may have been ill-advised (not insincere) and it may be that this was more anecdotally clear far earlier than many of Michael's examples wanted to see. Which brings us to...why didn't they want to see it? What were THEY getting out of not seeing it---I don't think it's about what they were giving. If genuine giving had been the motivation, I think they would have seen more clearly, and far sooner, that it wasn't really working.

Posted by: annette on August 12, 2003 10:26 AM



Mine was similar to your lawyer example. I worked with a Product Manager, the best one we ever had btw, who would never go to a female doctor between the ages of 50 and 30 (at the time - a decade ago) because most of them got in through affirmative action as well. This woman was an ardent feminist herself, and said the younger women going through medical school seemed to have to have their ducks in a row, but a whole generation didn't, and it's not worth risking your life or your health over ideology.

At that same company, we had another Product Manager, our worst by a long shot, who invited all the women in the department out to lunch about six months after she started at the company. When they got together, she told them that lunch was a ruse, and that the real intent of the "lunch" was they were all going to go to the EEOC together that day and lodge their first complaint against the company. Her reasoning was that the first complaint was always "ignored," so to make a real complaint stick, they had to enter a BS one initially. Well, of course, since the entire female staff of one department entered a complaint about sexism the same day, the EEOC contacted the company and asked what the hell was up. That day killed a lot of those women's careers at the company. I didn't see one of them advance again.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on August 12, 2003 11:22 AM



I have an anecdote I'd like to pass on. Back in the early 60's, when I was a young ex- GI just out of the service, I enrolled in one of the best statewide universities in the country, the University of California. I don't remember today what my tuition costs were, though as a resident they were close to free. Then came R. Reagan and the various and sundry attacks and taxes upon the system and the Regents that ran it.

I think people who today think that the system is better, in any fashion, either don't have children or live far outside the state. Is the old idea of educating our kids at the public expense a socialist concept or enlightened self- interest.? I suppose it depends upon your perspective, but I note (parenthetically) that it is primarily middle-class whites, who of course have the option, that are moving out of Calif. in ever increasing numbers. Must be a coincidence, huh?

Posted by: Michael S on August 12, 2003 11:50 AM



Mr. Shark:

You write:

It's well established that because of the way our brains work, testimonial and anecdotal evidence tends to "feel" much more convincing than statistical data about any issue.

This, while true, appears to assume that a strong statistical case can and has been made regarding the issues being discussed. I'm not aware of, for example, any statistics on the degree of responsibility that the attraction of women to rape-prone males has on the overall rape situation. "Statistics" on the questionable outcomes of policies are often, shall we say, hard to come by, as they are rarely of political use to the supporters of such policies. Perhaps you have a stash of such juicy numbers around. Until you do, you are, in effect, dismissing the life experience of a number of highly intelligent observers, which hardly seems a "scientific" stance in itself.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 12, 2003 12:04 PM



Couple things:

Back when I was toiling in Dilbertland as an engineer, I worked at one place where the department actually had a female member. She was very cute, very sweet, and almost totally incompetent. It didn't matter, though, because all the male members of the team (myself included) would quite cheerfully do her work for her. That's why I've never quite understood the concept of an "old boys network" that conspires to keep women out of male dominated fields - maybe it's different in things like law or medicene, but every engineer I ever met would have loved to have some women around...

At the same place, though, our department manager happened to be a women, and she was one of the best managers I've ever had. A women who manages men has two advantages: she avoids the pissing contests over authority that men can get into, and she can take advantage of the fact that men are used to taking orders from women.

That's middle management, though - by the time you get to senior VPs and CEO's, interpersonal smoothness matters less and "inspirational" leadership matters more. That's why men (prticularly the tall, alpha-male types) tend to succeed in those positions. Both men and women are primed to look to a man for leadership.

So: men do the actual work, women directly supervise, and "big men" lead. Pretty much how most societies have tended to operate, isn't it?

Posted by: jimbo on August 12, 2003 12:10 PM



As a woman who's directly supervised a time or two, Jimbo, I know most of the big men are merely prancing in front of the parade, not actually leading. For every one guy who really has ideas and nerve, there are a hundred frat boys cutting deals with their golf buddies and looting the company.

And, from a historical perspective, a lot of societies operate like this: women raise the children and farm the fields and build the shelters, and men busy themselves having pissing contests with other men.

But the career of Missy Elliot shows that gender roles can be fluid. She's sold herself successfully as a woman do this or that or whatever while behaving exactly like the worst bullying thieving exploitative carnie impresario. And P Diddy is a girl.

Posted by: j.c. on August 12, 2003 1:37 PM



"I know most of the big men are merely prancing in front of the parade, not actually leading."

Oh, hell, I know that - but what I find interesting is that they keep getting put up there. It's not some conspiracy, despite what feminists seem to think - people, men and women, look for the "big man", and will excuse him all sorts of behavior. (Including feminists - how else to explain their embrace of a certain president?)

Posted by: jimbo on August 12, 2003 1:58 PM



In Mr Shark's defence, the power of anecdote is such that highly intelligent observers are as vulnerable to it as anybody else, and abuse of anecdotal evidence is what enables quacks of all kinds to exploit people. Getting people to demand empirical evidence is fundamental to a functioning democracy. Welfare dependency, affirmative action by race or gender are all pretty amenable to statistical analyses. Kieran Healy did a good post on easy traps in these kind of discussions.

Posted by: Gabriel on August 12, 2003 2:55 PM



Gabriel:

I disagree. Having spent some time reviewing the very contentious disputes over affirmative action, I cannot say that I've seen what I would term are simple, straightforward statistical analyses in any of these areas, especially where one is discussing "drawbacks." And I repeat; the power of social norms to prevent the collection of such information is very high, and makes it difficult to be sure that such statistics as exist are accurate.

P.S. Having looked at Kieran Healy's discussion, the various subtleties he discusses makes me ask why anyone would be confident that statistical analyses will capture them. In short, all of this seems like an apparently reasonable (but actually authoritarian) way of shutting down discussion of social engineering by the "powers that be" and their apologists, a group that apparently includes you and Mr. Shark.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 12, 2003 4:36 PM



I'm not disagreeing with you on the the particular issues (not being American, the specifics are beyond me), but my general understanding from the media etc is that there is a healthy debate taking place about these things over there. I certainly wouldn't want to act as an apologist for anyone seeking to shut down a discussion. If you believe that there is a kind of self-censorship on the part of the data-gatherers/ interest groups to conceal (or not collect) information that would upset 'the powers that be', isn't it better to campaign for more/ better statistics? The wealth of info I can download from .gov websites makes me think the US must be one of the world leaders in this kind of thing. The problem with arguing from anecdotes is that the 'opposition' will have their own equally true stories of destinies which were changed by government programmes, etc. I suppose both sides will equally have their own statistics, so maybe it's just my personal preference for number crunching. Anyway, no debate-stifling intended.

Posted by: Gabriel on August 12, 2003 5:35 PM



Aside from the "give a man a fish, teach a man to fish" issues with dependancy that have been raised here, I am most concerned with the tendency of any bureaucracy to bloat over time.

And under a democracy, it's almost worse. How is going to vote that govt. programs shrink or end if they are a govt. employee?

The only solution I've seen offered that would address this is "if you are a govt. employee, you can't vote." Because taxing is picking one's pocket at the point of a gun, one citizen shouldn't be allowed to pick his neighbors pocket and put it in his own. This so far always-fatal flaw of democracy has not been addressed otherwise.

There is indeed a need to have poor people to run through bureaucratic hoops. It has been observed (by a conservative African-American) that if you stripped out the entire remaining welfare bureaucracy, the savings would allow you to just GIVE a check to anyone who asked, and who's SSN was listed as having made below the poverty line for the year at the IRS; all this would take about ONE line of computer code on a web page (and even WITH cheats who work under the table, you will still get a large refund to the tax payers. But then the welfare-crats would have to find something USEFUL to do; I think it'd probably still be cheaper if you gave them, say, 2 years severence to figure out what to do now. Toss in college credits too to lessen the blow).

All that and more could be done if we merely acknowledged that mugging your fellow man at the ballot box is still morally an act of violence if one is voting to so enrich oneself. If everybody ELSE votes to so enrich you, and you had no say in it, that is a TOATLLY different moral situation.

Wouldn't THAT make a hell of a Constitutional Amendment to try to pass?

Back to the "give a fish/teach to fish dichotomy. Microloans to start small ventures in developing countries have worked very well (financing one's fishing rod would fall in the "teach to fish" column. "ok, first, you need a fishing pole...")


Movements to title assets that are not otherwise captured under the rule of law, and hence can't be mortgaged, have been wildely successful in creating wealth in the developing world. (see various works by De Soto, from Peru(?) I believe, about this). Most real estate not being titled is one of the main causes for the lack of a middle class in much of the world.

Posted by: David Mercer on August 12, 2003 5:39 PM



(1) "...but what I find interesting is that they keep getting put up there. It's not some conspiracy, despite what feminists seem to think - people, men and women, look for the "big man", and will excuse him all sorts of behavior. (Including feminists - how else to explain their embrace of a certain president?)"

Yeah--very unfortunately for all of us, it's true. But, I honestly believe, changing...

(2) I think men and women make equally ineffective supervisors. I don't think either gender has a corner on that market.

(3) "So: men do the actual work, women directly supervise, and "big men" lead. Pretty much how most societies have tended to operate, isn't it?" And look where we are!! Maybe the best argument of all for turning things on their head!

Posted by: annette on August 12, 2003 10:36 PM



It's funny -- you try your hand at teaching, you start out a left-liberal, and you get a whole lot of Moments That Make You Think. I can't say that any of the observations above take me by surprise.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on August 13, 2003 3:19 AM



Michael, several of your moments that made you think can be boiled down to the insight that you can't really make things better for people by giving them stuff they haven't properly earned - whether it's law degrees, food or social welfare. Clearly there's a lot of truth to that insight. Clearly, the post-war left has been way too optimistic about what can be achieved, and has often been wrong about how to achieve what is actually achievable.

But I think we just have to be realistic about what that kind of aid can do - and in general it can make bad situations a bit less bad, but it rarely makes bad situations good. Transforming a famine-inflicted society into an aid-dependent society is going from the bad to the less bad, but it is worth doing. Likewise, a welfare-dependent underclass might ultimately be better than a mafia-dependent underclass. Because that's what they have in Rio, for example. Huge populations who live in favelas where no property law is enforced, no one pays tax, electricity is stolen from the electricity companies, the police cannot go, and the leaders are drug barons. It strikes me that the only way they're going to solve this problem is to bring this population back into civil society and under the rule of law, and the only way they're going to do that, initially, is to provide some welfare structure for them.

Posted by: Hugo on August 13, 2003 6:58 AM



"...and the only way they're going to do that, initially, is to provide some welfare structure for them."

Careful about that "initially". Michael's post seems to indicate "...and forever" needs to be added. And maybe it does. But that shouldn't continue to take people by surprise, and they shouldn't present the plan as "initially..."

Posted by: annette on August 13, 2003 10:14 AM



Annette, I agree. Aid can have its uses, if it's a springboard to something else. Welfare dependency is a problem, but that doesn't mean the provision of welfare in itself is a bad thing.

Posted by: Hugo on August 13, 2003 11:21 AM



No, but ending Drug Prohibition would go a longer ways towards removing the underlying perverse incentives in the Favelas. Which is why Lula maintains he wants to end Prohibition in Brazil.

Do that and title every little shanty in the Favelas and you'll start to get somewhere.

Posted by: David Mercer on August 14, 2003 4:23 AM



I'm not sure I understand.

Posted by: Dwight on December 13, 2003 12:14 PM






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