Friday, March 30, 2007

A Friday Rant

When I was eleven or twelve years old, some time in 1957, my family went to a Canadian citizenship ceremony. My mother and father had to answer some questions about Canada to qualify, and presumably responded correctly because from that day forward we were all Canadian citizens. I still have my original citizenship certificate somewhere. My brother, who was eight years old at the time, was already officially a citizen because he was born in Canada, shortly after we arrived from Germany in 1949.

This is 2007, so I guess that means I have been a citizen of Canada for fifty years. Wow.

I like Canada. It has been a good place to grow up, get an education, start numerous businesses, make and lose money, raise a family, and to do all of the things that I wanted to badly enough to make whatever sacrifices were necessary. Life is a lengthy series of exchanges: If we want something, we invest time and energy and/or the money that derives from our actions, into the achievement of that goal. Tit for tat. An exchange of values.

Rarely can anything be achieved without some sort of sacrifice. To attain any level of success, it is usually necessary to prioritize what you want, and to then delay gratification of other desires by postponing or even eliminating some things from your life. That trade off has always seemed perfectly reasonable to me. It is not, however, reasonable to everyone. That's OK. We're all different. What works for me might not work for you, or vice versa. No problem. As long as Joe Futzwutz and Mary Jane Dingbat live their lives without any direct cost to me, thy can do whatever they wish. They can consume everything in sight, buy the biggest cars, the biggest boats, the biggest houses, take the most trips, and party every weekend. When they hit their retirement years though, don't expect me to take care of them. I have spent my working life preparing for the worst. I have delayed gratification, often to the chagrin of my wives, and have tried to make sure that I would never be a burden to society or to my family.

My parents taught me that. My dad laboured at the most back-breaking jobs and my mother washed floors on her hands and knees to support themselves and their family. They only consumed what they could afford, rarely travelled anywhere, packed lunches, eschewed vices like smoking or drinking, and when they retired they had enough money to take care of themselves. They even paid for their funerals and grave sites and had some money left over for their kids. We didn't need it by then. We were taught well.

One of my favourite blogs is written by Jen, at One Plus Two. She works with the homeless. She writes these gripping posts about people she works with and the injustices she sees around her. Often, I read a post of hers and don't even leave a comment because I feel it will just be something trite and meaningless and I don't want to cheapen her passion. Jen has passion by the truckload.

I like passion. In order for any one of us to achieve anything, we have to be passionate. We have to care. We have to want to make a difference. Often, though, the means to the end we desire is what we have trouble agreeing on. That's why the blog cruising we all do is important. We learn about situations we might otherwise not be familiar with. We learn about ideas people have to solve various problems. We learn that not everyone thinks as we do.

Here is my problem: I believe that many of the problems that face people are of their own making and that it is not up to the rest of us to make the problems go away, at least not at the point of a gun. By that, I mean of course proposed political solutions with which I don't agree, via taxation, to problems that may not merit intervention. The gun is always there, believe me. Try not paying your taxes. Sooner or later someone with a gun is going to come to your door.

I have no problem with voluntarily helping anyone. I just like to choose who I am going to help. There are people I would help in a heartbeat. There are others who are guaranteed never to get a penny from me, if I can help it. I want to choose.

Jen appears to deal with many people who can't help where they are. Perhaps they might have a history of mental or physical illness that precludes any possibility of holding down a job. So, let's help them. Where do I sign up? There are others though, those who are the architects of their own misfortune, that I definitely don't want to help. Throwing tax funds at them is a monumental waste of money and only encourages them never to do anything about their plight. They neglected their schooling, got into drug or alcohol abuse, got pregnant without any way to care for their child, and now, as a direct result of their own stupidity, they can't get by. I would help their children, because they are innocent of any wrongdoing and deserve a chance to break out of the life engineered by their parent(s,) but I won't contribute directly to help someone who has behaved like an idiot.

Saturday mornings, after I drop my son off at German School, I often stop at a coffee shop in a rougher area of my city to get some coffee to take to my office. Almost always, there are young parents with young children there. Coffees and doughnuts and hot chocolate for the family will easily cost $10.00 or more. That's $520.00 per year. Cigarettes for both adults will cost at least $15.00 per day, at Canadian prices. That's $5,475.00 per year. By the look of the adults, there was considerable Friday night partying. How much did that cost? Conservatively, probably $50.00. That's another $2,600 per year. Why do I care how these people spend their money? Because the kids are in rags. They need new shoes and perhaps new winter coats. Their teeth need work. And goodness knows how they live at home. Do they eat properly? The grown-ups should make whatever sacrifices are necessary to take care of themselves and their kids: quit smoking, quit boozing, buy the kids some clothes and send them to the dentist. They are their kids. Not mine. Take care of them.

If we have kids, it is our job to raise them responsibly, to give them everything they need (not everything they want) and, to help them achieve a social and economic status better than ours was, and above all, to teach them values. My parents were peasant farmers in Europe, originally. They wanted to succeed, and did, with great sacrifice and hard work. I had to work very hard too, and make many sacrifices, to get to where I am today. My son will have it easier, but I am trying to teach him that regardless of what his station in life will be, he will have to take responsibility for himself and his family and never be a burden to anyone. He is not now, nor should he ever be, anyone else's problem.

Our governments are throwing more money at the problems of the poor and homeless than ever before. I don't see anything getting better, do you? Today's 'poor' have things that I never had and have opportunities that didn't exist years ago, but the will to change, to make a better life for themselves and for their kids, simply isn't there.

When I was growing up, my family sat for years at a table that some other family had discarded. Our living room was furnished with an old couch and chairs that another family had given us. At age seventeen or so, I found an old TV by the road and fixed it up so I could watch the odd television show when I didn't have something better to do, which was almost never. My parents never bought a TV. My brother and I finally bought them a TV so they could watch the occasional nature program. It was seldom turned on. We didn't need television or fancy games or lots of money because we had each other. We cared about each other. We actually talked to each other. My parents not only taught by example, they told us what was right and what was wrong.

This is not a post about me, or about how I feel that I have all the answers. I just get so frustrated knowing that there are real people out there with real problems, and they are not getting the help they need. Why not? Because so many tax dollars are being sucked out of the system to support people who just don't give a shit, and who will be happy to be wards of the state until they die, and then pass that not-so-enviable distinction on to the next generation.

The economic party will be over soon, folks, and there will be far fewer tax dollars to go around then. How are these people going to live?

I don't know.


  1. I was just thinking along these lines, earlier this week. A man asked me if I had forty cents. I gave him two thirty five. Afterward, I recognized him as I man I had been in a detox center with. I wondered why, since we'd both met under similar circumstances with the same options available to us, thanks be to the government and tax dollars, why I made it and he didn't. Money is only one part of the solution and as medications are to therapy, if it isn't combined with social programs and psychological/psychiatric/sociological help, it isn't much good.

    But, having said that, how can we decide who is worth and who isn't?

    Like I've said before, we cannot simply view or meet a man in one moment of his life and total his sum worth on only that which you see or believe. We all have our own paths and had people seen me broke and literally starving to death, while I drank and smoked, I can see them having had the same concerns. And, I wonder, when donating to the food bank, how many people think, "those mothers are probably just spending their checks on liquor or movie rentals", in the way that we assess the homeless guy on the street, who we think is probably going to take our two dollars and drink it away. We can't make those judgments, because we cannot see the whole picture.

    And so, we have programs in place. And, they have to encompass those who 'deserve' it and those who 'don't', because it would be too painstaking to listen to every single story from beginning to end, with all the various aspects of abuse, biology, chemistry, genetics, successes, failures, attempts, motivations and who would determine who was worthy?

    It is frustrating, but, for the sake of argument, God said that we should not judge and He said that we should help the poor. I think in doing these things, not blindly, but openly, we leave the doors open for those who can and will. Should we shut all the doors for those who can and will, for the sake of the few who can't and won't?

    It's a hard argument.

    I knew a few families on welfare who drank and smoked while their kids went hungry. Bad choices, certainly. Is addiction a disease, most likely. They should be helping their children, but if they aren't, we have to.

    Without social programs, we would not be a society of the very rich and very poor, we would be a society of the very criminal and the only slightly so.

    Bold, I know. But, isn't it true? Or, is that my generalization and oversimplification.

    I appreciate your thoughts on the subject, Atavist. I know you have a good heart and I understand your frustrations.

    Faith, my friend. Faith.

  2. PS. The man I gave the two dollars and thirty five cent to, walked across the parkinglot and into a greasy spoon diner. And do you know what crossed my mind? Yes, he eats now, so that he may live another day to drink. But, hopefully, in a few more days, or a few more months, or a few more years, one day, he won't live to drink. Had I not been so hopeless at one point in my life, I may not have this optimistic perspective.

    However.. I've only ever walked in my own shoes. And, until half my income is going to taxes that feed and clothe and educate the children of the pimps and whores and the chronically lazy, I retain the right to change my mind, though I doubt I will.

    I have to say, I admire your writing, Atavist. You ask all the right questions. I don't mean that flippantly.

  3. I think to me, Penny, the notion of a 'hand up' to help someone get themselves out of a rut is one thing, but a handout every week, or every month forever, is not acceptable. People have to take that first painful step to help themselves. The second step is easier, the third easier yet, and so on.

    What's the expression: "God helps those who help themselves."

  4. whoa...i just saw my name in here but don't have time to give it a thorough read...will be back later.

    At-the-dude. thank you! I'll be back.

  5. A few thoughts:

    I agree with some of the things you say. On the other hand, my whole view of the world is so different that the things with which I disagree are perhaps a bit more prominent. :)

    See, I believe we live in a human community ~ and that community is largely defined by how we treat each other.

    I don't believe the government is the solution, either.. which is where we agree.

    The government is a thug. It is an oligarchy. In no way do I trust the government to do what we as a community should do for each other.

    In most cases, families should care for their own. That means some level of sacrifice on an individual level because maybe it means everyone can't go off to various parts of the country or world and do their "own thing". It means that when there are old people or sick people, the family works together to take care of that person.

    Many homeless people are homeless because their families are too bloody selfish to take care of them.

    I believe this change has to come about through social standards and acculturation.

    I know quite a few Vietnamese people here in Sacramento. It is not unusual for multiple generations to live in one house, to pool their money to start businesses, to take care of each other, raise the children..

    It is very similar to Thailand's situation. Did you know that Thailand has very few homeless people? They do not have social services at a government level.

    Just like the Vietnamese, they are taught from a very young age that they have responsibilities to their families, extended and immediate. They are taught cooperation instead of competition, community instead of selfishness.

    It works. It's worked there for thousands of years.

    Ok. So .. that's Vietnam and Thailand.

    What about here?

    That won't work here because the culture is built on the premise that individual happiness matters more than community responsibility.

    We are not islands ~ yet this social system teaches that we should be independent entirely of others. Therefore we owe nothing to anyone else.

    So the US has to have social service programs.

    There's no way around it unless the culture itself changes.

    Just a few thoughts...

    Wow.. um.. yeah.. a few. :)



  6. i just finished writing the longest freaking comment of my entire blogging life and it was eaten. i probably don't need to tell you how irritated i am right now. there is no possible way to recreate it either, the last night masterpiece that it was.

    I've had a shit night, so I am probably going to sound tense, and that isn't directed at you (stop by later, i wrote about it) but I will say with utmost respect that I don't really agree.

    Our economic party is over, but because of greed and war and weapons, not because we bent over backwards caring for people. I don't agree that more money is spent on homelessness than ever before, George has cut HUD every year, and the decline in affordable housing continues.

    Why don't people give a shit? Why are they filled with such despair? And what, truly, should our role be? Can we ever feel free when others are oppressed? I can't, matter how I bend it I can't reconcile that, because there for the grace of god go i.

    ps. i absolutely respect your angle on these issues, and i don't expect us to walk hand in hand singing somewhere over the rainbow together (although now that's making me giggle) and in fact, i prefer it like this, because we respect each other enough to tackle difficult issues knowing it might bring dissent, and you showed me that yet again by going to great lengths to be kind to me (before trashing the homeless, dude)


    seriously, can we all give a shit about the right things? and what are the right things to give a shit about?

  7. Chani: I agree that the Thai model wouldn't work here in North America without a huge shift in our attitudes. In the German community in which I grew up here in Canada, that sort of thing was more common in the fifties. Often, three generations of the same family would live together. The grandparents would take care of the kids, the parents would work, and every spare penny would be saved. In the entire German community there, only one family seemed to lag behind the others, and they still managed to raise three kids, pay for their home and prepare for retirement -- all without resorting to welfare. The Germans weren't alone. One could say the same for the Italians, the Hungarians, the Portuguese and many other groups which were respresented in the immigrant community where I grew up.

    Why did these people all succeed? Two reasons: One, they had no choice. There were no government programs like today's. They came to Canada and basically had to sink or swim. They swam. The second reason is that these people all had some sort of cultural work ethic. They equated work and responsibility with success. They saw an opportunity to improve the lives of themselves and their offspring and they took it. They did the most menial jobs, worked as many hours of overtime as they could manage, and prospered. They raised, mostly, well-balanced families who in turn passed on the values of hard work and responsibility to the next generation.

    That is the difference. Many immigrants here today collect welfare. And many don't have the work ethic and sense of personal responsibility that earlier immigrants had.

    I have absolutely nothing agsint immigrants, of any race, colour, nationality, religion. I just expect them to take care of themselves. We did.

  8. Jen: It is a good thing that I dropped in at your site before I started writing here, in response to your comment above. Otherwise, I might have thought that I alone was responsible for your having a 'shit night' and that would have made me sad.

    I think you know that I am not some cold, callous, uncaring curmudgeon. Well, I probably am a curmudgeon, but I do care about others. I think you understand that I don't want to deprive everyone else of their 'rights' so I can sit in a secret vault somewhere and, like Scrooge McDuck (remember him? Nah, you are probably much too young) play among my piles of cash and gold.

    But... what are rights? The American constitution guarantees the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What does that mean? Here is what I wrote on the subject elsewhere:

    "The right to life simply means that no-one else has the right to kill you. It doesn’t mean that everyone else has to support you, entertain you, educate your children, and give you a place to live.

    "The right to liberty simply means that no-one has the right to detain you, to force you to do things you don’t wish to do, to keep you from doing things you want to do, or to restrain you from speaking freely or assembling with others. It doesn’t mean that you can escape responsibility or consequence if you have caused harm to others.

    "The right to pursue happiness is your guarantee that no-one can reasonably interfere with you as you go about your life unless, and this is very important, your actions interfere with the similar rights of others."

    Those are rights. Pretty much everything else is really privilege, the cost of which is borne by the taxpayer. Does that mean that we shouldn't be concerned about the needy, the poor, the sick? Not at all.

    My rant, first of all, was not directed specifically at the homeless. But... and I'm speaking only of my experience here, closer to home, many homeless don't actually need to be homeless. There are places where they could go but they might not like the conditions under which they would be accomodated there. They might not like the fact that it is 'lights out' at a certain time, or that drinking or drugging might not be allowed, or simply that they don't like being told what to do. If I were ever to lose everything, I would probably prefer to sleep under a bridge than to chafe under the rules of an organized shelter somehwere.

    I have a relative who lives in a group home. He could never function on his own, and he lived with his parents until he was about fifty, then moved into a group home where his needs are met. He could easily be homeless because, like many of the homeless in Canada, he is schizophrenic and while he requires lots of care, he doesn't really 'fit in' and is very difficult to care for.

    I absolutely agree with your points that much too much money is spent on the military in the United States and on a lot of other silly stuff as well. Canadian governments have perfected the art of wasting money and I know all about that. We just waste our tax dollars on other stuff here.

    The larger issue though, is that much money that is spent on social programs is wasted. And, before it is wasted, it is extracted from the taxpayer. And what do we get? Certainly not solutions, because if that were the case, you and I would have nothing to write about. Things are far from perfect.

    I would love to sit around a table someday, you and I and Penny and Chani and some of the other very bright folks who drop in here and discuss this in person. It would be a long, long, discussion, because there are no easy answers.

    BTW, if you have a good singing voice, I play 'Over the Rainbow' on the guitar. Maybe we could cut a record, make millions of dollars in profits, and donate the proceeds to the poor.

    Do you think that might work? Maybe not.

    But, I suspect, private solutions to the problem, if we all spent some time thinking about it, would go much farther than government solutions.

  9. dammit all to hell. another comment eaten.

    the short of it was that if I lost my job, on J's alone we'd be considered Very Low Income, and we'd be screwed in two months time. The wait lists for affordable housing would be closed, and we'd eat through meager savings. And then what? If we couldn't recover we'd be forced to move into some sort of program, and then we'd be tossed around like balls on bingo night.

    all because i lost my job. i've seen it a thousand times, and then the effects of this trauma take it's toll...and bam. we've become part of the system.

    and the worst part is i can't carry a tune, so we'd not be able to make money that way, either :)

    great discussion going on around here today!

  10. oh, and i still hold that the larger issue is that money spent on defense is wasted. the money spent on service programs could be administered better too, with realistic objectives and less bureacracy.

    we can agree to disagree and i can do so with glee and respect, but i will forever refuse to concede that our financial woes are due to the money spent on social programs when we spent much, much more on defense. it's just easier to blame the little guys for our collective misfortune.

    and i don't mean your blame, but rather the propaganda machine's way of putting on the spin. perhaps the larger issue indeed is we can trust nothing that comes out of a bureacrats mouth.

  11. now who's the libertarian?

    can i get a button or something?

    wandering off now.

  12. Jen: As usual, we agree on the salient points. Really, we do. Some people need help. You want to help them all. Some of those people actually deserve help. Those are the ones I want to help. We differ in degree only. Well, maybe there is another difference. I want to help them privately and, if I understand you correctly, you would prefer to do so under officially sanctioned and funded (via taxation) programs.

    Watch for my next post. Maybe there is somethiung we can all do to make things just a little bit better, somehow.

  13. LOL!!

    I am so happy that I checked back on these comments.


    Jen: If you write a super long comment, highlight and copy, just incase - then you have it on your clipboard, in order that you might try again.

  14. There used to be a privately-funded program among churches called Tough Love, designed to help parents cope with teenagers that had, as I like to say, "freaked out": gone over the edge into drugs, hippiedom and the gutter. It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done, and reasonably too.
    There are a whole lot of people out there who just don't give a damn to do anything but "scratch their itches"; slake their lusts, and preferably, at someone else's expense as much as possible. You'd be amazed how many alleged "charities" and private social projects have followed the government model of endless subsidy and a "hope" of reform by miracle or happenstance.
    Such outfits may as well be hoping for gold and silver to fall from the skies!
    It's absolutely pathetic.

    There is one person who can change your life for you. Take a look in the mirror, and you'll find him. That person is also responsible for your life. All this trite, pap talk of reinventing the broken handout wheel has gone on countless times before. It was drivel then, and it's drivel now. I don't know what starts it, really. Is it vanity, egotism, some combination thereof?
    I guess folks just rationalize that they've had it so good through the reward of useful effort, somehow they feel guilty if they don't try to "redistribute/share the wealth" and set about it as therapy. Perhaps this last, psychological "benefit" is worth the resources wasted.

    There is one medium of exchange between people of reason, and that is fair trade of value for value. It is disgraced and disrespected by those who wish to loot value by force, or mooch it with tears. To cross that line is to abandon logic and careen down the slippery slope of emotionalism.

  15. Galt: You said: "There is one person who can change your life for you. Take a look in the mirror, and you'll find him."

    Amen. That is exactly what I believe. There is never anything wrong with getting a hand up from someone, but you have to decide that you want to improve your life and then do the work, and make the sacrifices, necessary to get what you want.

  16. Amen. Well said, Sieg...As far as you went.
    The individual with the problem must be looking to solve it, before the "hand up" will do them any good. Most want excuses, not answers for their problems. For those who genuinely want answers and solutions, they will be provided, regardless of whether "walk the talk" is there or not. "Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you" is not hollow rhetoric. It describes a principle that operates in life as surely as the sun rising and setting, and that is believing equals receiving. Once a person discovers the limitless power available to the persistant, he or she should use it to their advantage, then teach others less informed about this simple lever to the mastery of life.
    It would do much more than all the collectivist gimmee schemes and other such altruism ever has, or ever will.

  17. I agree that people need to want to help themselves before things will change for them. Any 'help' that allows them to simply coast along or to remain complacent will ultimately fail. Only personal motivation will make the difference.

    How though, to motivate people to want to make the effort to get out of their predicament? It's not easy.