Greed Pt 2: Systems, Cheaters, and Dehumanizing the Poor

I’ve had numerous conversations on the issue of greed and income inequality with libertarians and conservatives about how great rich people are and they shouldn’t be punished by having money by having it redistributed.  They create jobs and they allow for people to have livelihood.  This is certainly one narrative, and having a society in which hard work is punished is not a good thing, but if we look at the narrative from the side of the person who isn’t making the big salary, but is working hard at a job with no chance for advancement and is barely making ends meet, the narrative looks different.  In this post I want to investigate the narrative that is used by those with money in order to dehumanize poor people, and make it seem as if poor people are the only ones with moral and ethical failings.

Largely I want to keep this discussion away from specific economic systems, but I think it’s important to discuss systems in general and how systems can be cheated.  As an example let’s look at lying.  When is lying effective?  Lying is most effective when most people are telling the truth.  Imagine a society where everybody lied 70-80% of the time when they spoke.  Would you trust anything anybody ever said even if it was the rare occasion that they were telling the truth?  The reason why people can get us to believe a lie is because most people are being honest, or at least believe they are being sincere in what they are telling us. (See the movie The Invention of Lying for a good laugh and a demonstration of this). Similarly one of the reasons why manipulative people can successfully do so is because they are good at reading the honest expression of emotions from other people and use that against you. In society we live with a variety of systems.  Capitalism is a system, welfare is a system, democracy is a system.   Within any system are cheaters.  Cheaters are successful in systems because most people aren’t cheaters.  That’s not to say there aren’t systems that don’t have a lot of cheaters, but those systems are tend to not be successful.

Image result for war on poorSo with this idea of systems and how cheaters cheat successfully let’s move forward to talk about the rich and the poor.  Both operate within different systems, although the groups are connected insofar as one group accumulates wealth at the expense of the other.  There is no question that there are poor people who work the system to get free money.  But we also know that to be successful the percentage of such people can’t be very high. How do we know this?  Well I think one good indicator would be how horribly drug testing welfare recipients has gone in terms catching all these supposed people using their welfare money for drugs.  Percentages are extremely low there.  Finally we have to remember some of our cognitive biases when looking at this problem.  There are many people who are working at part time or full time while on welfare.  Such people don’t catch our eyes, because they are indistinguishable from anybody else who is working and trying to get by.  Cheaters on the other hand are highly visible.  Media outlets like Fox News likes to report on those cheaters and I’m quite certain, given the number of poor people in the U.S., that they can have a new story every day of the year, each year, for the foreseeable future.  There are currently 52.2 million people using government assistance programs.  Even if the number of cheaters were 1% of that number, this is plenty of fuel for media outlets who want to demonize the poor.

Meanwhile what about cheaters at the top?  Do we not believe that those with vast sums of wealth aren’t cheating?  What’s interesting is the way such cheating is justified.   If a rich person is taking advantage of a loophole it’s okay…he or she is just doing what is humanly normal to do in an imperfect system.  We can’t blame rich people for taking advantage, but poor people apparently are the scum of the Earth for doing the same thing.  And of course the truth is that the rich don’t have to cheat the system, with their wealth they can game the system so it doesn’t look like they are cheating at all.  And if they do get caught they have the best lawyers to get them out.

Image result for bacon's rebellion
                                                   An artist depiction of Bacon’s Rebellion

The way poor people are portrayed today is a very real problem that has been going on for long time.  Consider Bacon’s Rebellion in colonial Virginia.  Poor blacks and whites united together against the rich landowners.  Although the rebellion was eventually quelled the rich became worried about races uniting against the rich and instead promoted the poor whites giving them selected benefits and privileges, and some were even given status to police black slaves.  This event in American history has been cited as one that hardened racial lines in U.S., but it’s also a good example how the rich are more concerned about keeping their wealth than even matters of race.  Using race was simply a convenient tool to make sure that their riches were protected.  This tactic of division continues today.  Virtue is so strongly tied to wealth that so many of the poorest of Americans put a billionaire in power, believing that this person’s talent for acquiring wealth would somehow spill over to them.  People have gotten wealthier under Trump but this is largely been the people who had wealth to begin with.

Image result for war on poorAs a current example of how the discussion always turns towards poor people being the problem, read this analysis of why so many people voted for Trump.  It argues that those who work hard for little money are unhappy with those who work less and make about as much due to welfare.  The analysis is done by a former U.S. Congressmen and now banker, and an Auburn university professor who is a policy advisor for the Heartland institute.  Two wealthy white older males.  Now even if their analysis is correct, which it very well could be, it represents a big problem.  Wealthy people are always pitting poor people against each other.  And poor people buy into it.  “The other poor person isn’t working as hard as me, and so they are the problem”.  But why can’t the problem be the rich person who is making people work for so little pay?  Why should I begrudge someone else is barely scraping by even if they live entirely off welfare? Not to mention that I am in no position to judge any person’s particular situation. The fact that so many poor people point across the aisle, while a handful of people continue to accumulate more wealth than they can possibly use is the real travesty here.  And this isn’t only a tactic of conservatives.  Many on the left happily treated poor people like a monolith and faulting them for the election of Trump based on solely on their racist, xenophobic and misogynistic attitudes.  And while there is no question this describes some voters (and not just poor ones) making an enemy of the poor shouldn’t be what a liberal party that claims progressive and humanist values is about.  Sometimes I feel like the attitude on the left is similar to the right “We could really make some progress in this country if it wasn’t for all those poor people”.  Was Mitt Romney’s comment about poor people voting democratic for free handouts any more offensive?  As David Brooks recently pointed out in a New York Times Op-Ed piece, rich and white lead both ends of the political spectrum.

The evidence is all around us about how the poor are regarded compared to the rich.  I mean we still have homelessness in this country.  And while oft used as a favorite excuse for not helping other people in need (we can’t help Syrian refugees because of all the homeless people…who we are incidentally not helping also), how many of us, on both sides of the political spectrum are simply numb to this reality.  I’ve had people tell me that homeless people are just faking it and trying to scam money.  This of course patently untrue, but again the only reason why some people might be successful faking homelessness is because there are so many to begin with.  Think how successful the campaign of the very wealthy must be in order to convince people to not only erode sympathy for homeless people but to actually think that it’s not even a real problem?  What about the differences in the way rich people and poor people are sentenced?  Not to mention the difference in legal advice such people can afford.  The famous example is “affluenza” teen Ethan Couch would easily end up in jail for life if he was in a lower tax bracket.  The thing is I am willing to accept the psychological impacts of growing up very rich and having your brain develop in a home in which there are literally no consequences for your actions.  When there are no mistakes that can be made which would impact Image result for psychology povertyyour standard of living in any noticeable way.  So I do think there is something real about affluenza.  What I strongly object to is that there is never the same consideration in sentencing when it comes to the real and also well documented evidence to the psychological impacts of poverty.  Growing up impoverished with little social mobility, lower quality schools, lower nutrition, your ability to plan long term, your likelihood of addiction, your reduced exposure to affluent people who can inspire you to more in your future.  It many places in the world the philosophy is “rich people are worthy of restorative justice, poor people are only worthy of punitive justice.”

Where do such ideas come from?  How do such divides enter into society?  How has the common person been baked into believing that wealth is what matters most to the point that we become willing participants in a game tilted against all but the most fortunate of people?  As I go back to think about the hunter-gatherers we were for such a long time it’s hard to imagine such vicious divides in those societies.

Further Reading

I found this site interesting.  There is very little research on how many cheaters there are of welfare, but what federal agencies are able to determine is the amount of “Improper Payment”, which includes fraud, but is only due to fraud is at 10.6%.  We can assume that the number of cheaters in the system is somewhat less.  Note that the greatest losses are associated with medicaid and negative income tax.  Not the many programs that actually help people who need the money for things like food and housing.  This loss from improper payment in those programs is at $21.2 billion, which in a country with 100 million tax payers averages to $212 a year or just under $18 a month.  And keep in mind some of the money that is labeled improper could just be due to government error.  Furthermore an improper payment is also deemed such if proper documentation is not available to support the payment.  This doesn’t mean that the person didn’t have legitimate documentation but lost it, or just didn’t know what documentation they had to send in.  In my experience many people who are poor are either poorly educated, incredibly busy, or both and rules and paperwork are complex and laborious, and honest mistakes happen all the time.  If you’ve lost a document the time you might have to take off work to replace it, is something you just can’t afford.  In the legal definition this might be fraud, but is certainly not people trying to fraud the government.

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Huma Abedin = Radical Islam = Radical Christianity

Today I decided to address a trending topic on Facebook to show the world that I’m paying attention to what’s important. 🙂

A NY Post article that exposes Hillary Clinton as someone who is going to bring the

Huma Abedin

dangers of Islam into the white house.  Now how does the article do this?  By pointing out that her possible future chief of staff and campaign aide Human Abedin has ties to radical Islam because she was an assistant editor for the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, and because her mother is still editor-in-chief of that publication. The NY Post claims is a radical Islamic publication, because of the content of what it publishes and because the journal was founded by the Muslim World League and then refers to a radical article posted in the journal from 1996 (yes 1996) by one of the top members in that organization.

This radical article says all sorts of nasty Muslim things that I guess imply that should Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin be in the Whitehouse, radical Islamic values will be forced onto the American People.

The article represents all sorts of fun stuff for conspiracy theorists and people who love to play the game 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon.  Forget the fact that the journal is an academic one, and they misunderstand what an editor actually does.  Also let’s ignore the fact that an important part of every academic field is discord, debate, and even in opinion.  Editors don’t usually censor opinion provided that it is clear that it is opinion, and would rather leave it up for debate in the community. The NY Post also says that this radical article destroys Hillary Clinton’s progressive feminist views because this article is very anti-feminist.  So even if this unconstitutional forcing of Sharia Law on everybody were to come to pass in the post apocalyptic vision that is being painted of  a Clinton presidency, it all rests on the idea that this Journal actually produces material that represents radical Islam, which the NY Post doesn’t really go to prove other than quoting passages from this 1996 article.  So therefore I decided to look at this article which I was able to find through my University Library.  I couldn’t find it free on-line, but I will quote passages here and reference it at the end of this article. So let’s look at what the NY Post says about this article:

Headlined “Women’s Rights Are Islamic Rights,” a 1996 article argues that single moms, working moms and gay couples with children should not be recognized as families. It also states that more revealing dress ushered in by women’s liberation “directly translates into unwanted results of sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility and indirectly promote violence against women.” In other words, sexually liberated women are just asking to be raped.

“A conjugal family established through a marriage contract between a man and a woman, and extended through procreation is the only definition of family a Muslim can accept,” the author, a Saudi official with the Muslim World League, asserted, while warning of “the dangers of alternative lifestyles.” (Abedin’s journal was founded and funded by the former head of the Muslim World League.)

“Pushing [mothers] out into the open labor market is a clear demonstration of a lack of respect of womanhood and motherhood,” it added.

The NY Post goes on to quote plenty of opinions by Huma Abedin’s mother such as:

““Among all systems of belief, Islam goes the farthest in restoring equality across gender,” she claimed. “Acknowledging the very central role women play in procreation, child-raising and homemaking, Islam places the economic responsibility of supporting the family primarily on the male members.”

Now I was not able to find her mother’s 31 page treatise report in the NY Post because they did not name that article, but given the selective quoting they did for the first article they talk about, I have no doubt there is a much large message that was being discussed than what they are trying to portray.

Let’s also remember the context.  American progressive values are not going to transform Islam instantly.  If Islam is going to become more moderate and enlightened such things happen in stages.  So despite some disturbing things that are quoted out of context some of views are going to remain conservative and not very progressive at all.  Also as to why the daughter, who clearly has a career and has entered the labor market, would have the same views as her mother is not clear either.  Ronald Reagan has a son who is an outspoken atheist.

To quote some of the article entitled “Women’s Rights are Islamic Rights” here are some other quotes which are quote progressive:

“We need not only to provide more opportunities for women but we need to increase the involvement and responsibilities of men in family life. We should recall here that the Cairo Conference resoundingly endorsed the principle that the full participation and partnership of both men and women, including shared responsibilities for the care and nurturing of children and maintenance of household is essential. The burden of poverty on woman can be lightened not just by placing greater economic responsibilities on them that will ensue from their increased participation in the economic sector. Evidence indicates that this burden is intensified when men do not discharge their obligations towards their families.”

This is actually quite progressive as it is a call to men to be more active in family life and sharing responsibilities in the home.  This point also appears before the quote about pushing women out into the labor market.  Without men taking more of a responsibility in domestic duties this does put additional stress and strain on women.  Hell we have that problem here.  Our society proves that point.  There are many articles by feminist who talk about this very thing.  The article also says:

“…we feel that the declared objectives of equality, development and peace can be achieved only by recognizing the inherent and inalienable dignity of women, by respecting the fundamental values and universal norms prevalent within each society and by accepting the importance of women’s presence and participation in all aspects of social life.”

And:

The Islamic package of women’s rights is, therefore, tailored to women’s specific needs, under which women enjoy all the basic rights that men are entitled to as members of the human race, plus additional privileges as mothers, wives, sisters and women. Islamic women’s rights recognize women’s specific needs and honor their special role in the family and society with a view to maintaining harmony and peace in society.

Radical indeed.

But look I’m not saying that there aren’t some issues with the Islamic view of women’s rights and I would like to see Islam be even more radical when it comes to women’s rights and become radically progressive, but that isn’t going to happen overnight.  However what caught my eyes is how what is considered radically dangerous Islamic views by the author are so amazingly similar to the extreme views of the conservative Christian right.

  • No family structure is valid but that of one man and one woman (in the U.S. this is referred to as traditional marriage)
  • alternative lifestyles are harmful to children and therefore society
  • A woman’s place is in the home to raise children.  Much like he article they quote nothing forbids a woman working outside the home as long as she is doing her wifely and family duties first.
  • Accusing the female victim for being to blame for the abuse.  For example here, and here.
  • Laying blame on women for their provocative clothing and the sexual violence enacted upon them.

Now I’m not saying that all these views represent mainstream Christianity today, but they were certainly more prevalent in 1996 and the fact that a conservative paper like the NY Post would criticize Hillary Clinton’s aide for views that are espoused by radical elements in the U.S. which you never see right leaning publications criticizing seemed very hypocritical.  But that’s par for the course for fundamental Christian conservatives in the U.S.

two-women1

The article fails to prove that Huma Abedin has any radical Islamic views, or even held them at one time.  It fails to recognize that the article in question was an exerpt by an address to the U.N. not some biased academic research and was the opinion of the speaker.  It’s pure fear mongering.  Let’s worry about the radically conservative views against women by our current group of citizens before we worry about such an influence from a different religion. A fundamentalist Christian recently told me that if I didn’t like America I could go to the middle east with my liberal ways.  I think that person might be confused on who should move.

  • Women’s rights are Islamic rights. By: Ali, Ahmad Mohammad, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 13602004, Jul96, Vol. 16, Issue 2

Hooked on a Feeling

I don’t plan on making this a long one, but there are some times when you see something where all you can think is Yes.  Yes. Yes, yes, and yes.  Yes.  Yes.  That’s the problem.  That is THEEEEE problem. Yes. We have lots of other problems, but we can’t start to solve those problems until we address this one.  It is not uniquely U.S., but we certainly have a lot of it here.  And it is not uniquely Republican, but they have made it a central theme to their party platform.  If you haven’t watched John Oliver’s piece from “This Week Tonight” on the RNC national convention you should.  For those with less time, I encourage you to start at about 3:39.  And for those with even less time I encourage you to watch when they start talking to Newt Gingrich.  I love that old Newt entirely gave the game away.  I am don’t like the fact that there are far too many in this nature who don’t see that.  For those with even less time I will give you the quotes of the night:

Newt: “The average American, I will bet you this morning does not think crime is down, does not think they are safer…”

Anchor: “But it is…we are safer…and it is down.”

Newt: “No that’s your view”.

Anchor: “Those are facts”

Newt: in articulate mumbling and then “…but what I said is also a fact”

John Oliver “NO IT ISN”T! No it isn’t! It’s only a fact, that that’s a feeling people have”

After John Oliver makes some great points they go back to Newt.

Newt: “The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics that theoretically may be right, but it’s not where human beings are.”

The reporter argues that his accusation of liberals using these numbers is partisan, but she explains that the numbers come from the FBI, and that’s not a partisan source.

Newt: “But what I said is equally true, people feel more threatened…”

Anchor: “Yes they FEEL it…but the facts don’t support it”

Newt: “As a political candidate, I’ll go with how people feel and I’ll let you go with the theoreticians”.

The fact that a major politician feels his feelings = facts is a problem.

The fact that politicians feel that their role is to appeal to feelings and not facts is a problem.

The fact that politicians intensify and exploit those feelings and manipulate us because of them is a problem.

And while this CNN anchor (sorry I don’t my anchors that well as I avoid the major news channels like the plague) is doing a tremendous job pointing out the flaws in Newt’s arguments, the media frequently also appeals to our feelings and not facts as well.  This is also a problem.

Imagine politicians and media if you presented us with actual information, and actual facts, and we determined our own feelings.  But then we’d be more powerful and government would actually have to answer to the people.  And the poor media would be relegated to actually watching over both us, making sure we remained informed and making sure the people making the decisions remained honest.

Drug users and petty thieves fill our jails, but this crime against humanity continues unabated.