A few weeks ago, I came across this post on Facebook:
Arguably, a varying 50%-75% of political news coverage is about who’s brief remark was more offensive to whom, it’s just a fact of life. Its a reflection of our culture, and changing that is like convincing people to stop eating carbs and sweets (by the way, see have you seen this yet?). As The Newsroom‘s Will McAvoy said, “… we’re failures.” I’m over it. Preaching critical thinking as the solution, again, as McAvoy, “…trying to civilize.”
The more interesting issue at hand is that political speech, generated by parties and candidates, and perhaps even more so, by the media and those supporting parties on the periphery, treats us all as if we’re the little girl in the story. We’re grown adults, with real-life problems and responsibilities, and at the same time, children. You see it all the time in speeches, debates…. coverage of said speeches and debates (news, social media)… coverage of coverage of said speeches and debates (anyone on TV or in the Press mentioning Fox News’ easy targets)… etc.
There are certainly reasons why arguments are over simplified, mostly to do with the number of hours in the day and people’s level of interest, but I think we’re better than that. I’m an optimist, and think we shouldn’t give up on talking about issues as if they are real life, mostly because our decisions have actual consequences.
The upcoming debates will be rich with statements like “….gut medicare,” or votes to “…kill social security,” or perhaps,”….allow the middle east to fall into chaos.” These are meaningless, and naked of factual points. And they’re everywhere. The ‘little girl story’ is really the same. Our best defense is to develop the sense, as a nation, to see through and truly understand them. So with that said, lets re-examine, and without making things super boring, look at how to translate an over simplified point into something that exists in reality.
First, there’s the foundations of the story- the pre-supposed notions that make it possible (much like gravity is to a story about a person riding a bike):
- The world is filled with people who have things (the not-poor), and people who do not have things (the poor).
- When people are poor, it’s for a logically debatable reason. The homeless guy in the story could work, but does not, implying he is poor because he is unwilling to work (lazy), incapable (stupid), or otherwise preoccupied (on drugs).
- Not-poor people pay taxes (i.e. the $50).
- It is the will of the not-poor that guides the destiny of the poor.
The story focuses on the little girl’s (our, the readers’) idealism. We’d all like to be in a position to make the world a better place. Then, in practice, party lines must be drawn to define your choices. If you’re a Democrat, you’re in favor of working, earning money, and giving that money to people who don’t work. If you’re a Republican, you believe that the opportunity exists for everyone to work, and in order to build a greater society, they must do that for themselves. But is that true for either side?
Imagine what Act II of the “Fictional Republican” scenario would look like. The little girl waves a wand, and narrator of the story (the one with the lawn who needs mowing), gets a knock on her door from this guy looking for work. In real life, she does one of three things. Startled, she says, “Thanks but no thanks,” or, if he’s not a stellar communicator, she calls the cops, or, if its a state with high gun ownership, maybe this happens. If that hasn’t horrified you, Act II of the “Fictional Democrat” scenario would end with the homeless guy with $50 in his hand on his way to doing this. By the way, on top of all of it, poor people pay taxes too (about 67% of them- source) which shits all over the ‘Make Everything Seem Black-and-White Day’ parade.
The other actor in the story is the homeless guy, who is presumed to be aware of the opportunity to do yard work, but chooses not to try and get the job. He’s not in a temporary stint of homelessness caused by underemployment (i.e. making minimum wage part time, which in the real world, is about 70% of homeless people in the US- source). And of course, in the tradition of brief anecdotes, he could not be a homeless veteran with PTSD (real world – 23-33% of cases – source), or mentally ill without access to medication (real world – 20-25% of cases – source), or addicted to drugs and alcohol (real world – 26%-38% of cases- source).
So what’s the little girl to do? Things just got much tougher. All of a sudden, the possibility exists that the homeless man may want to work but is unaware of the opportunity. Or maybe, there’s some overcome-able obstacle that stands in his way. And we’re still not exactly sure how the Republican, home-owning, free-advice-giver would react to a vagrant showing up at her house.
In a better, more realistic story, the little girl works for the $50, and invests it in the future of her community. Perhaps she finds out that 5 more neighbors require yard work, and with permission, makes a flyer on their behalf seeking under-employed workers in the area (job boards). Perhaps she buys a rake, gloves, and leaf bags, and offers them to the homeless guy as an investment in his future (micro-loans). Maybe, she approaches the homeless guy, tries talking to him like a person, and spends the money to help him get needed medication, or maybe a mass transit pass so he can travel to get work he is aware of (advocacy). In each of these three scenarios, the little girl (us) is focused on solving actual problems, rather than pointing at some vague sense of ‘the other guy’s’ inability to understand the issue. Also, she’s acting as a ‘job creator’, the one untouchable principal held as good in this election cycle.
These choices recognize that she has an opportunity to work, and along with it, an obligation to use her status as ‘not-poor’ to think of her community. That choice does not make her a Democrat, or a Republican. It makes her a citizen.
Written by guest blogger, Aaron Reinitz