We Can’t Fix Anything

Driftglass catchesBobo neatly illustratinga point I made here:

I mean, there’s too much misery out there, so distance yourself.
Drug addicts took the drugs in the first place, so fuck them. The
homeless probably did something to be homeless. (Confidential to the
doughfaced frat rat I overheard mouthing that crap in a bar last
weekend: When I see you on the corner in a few years after you get
injured at your Five Guys job and your landlord evicts you and the cops
pick you up for that joint I could smell a block away? You will be my
exception to the rule that if I have a buck in my pocket it goes to the
first one who asks for it, you ignorant fuck.) People on welfare are
just scamming the system. Public housing is for failures. We shouldn’t
give people extra assistance for their children; they’ll just go off
the birth control. Whaddayagunnado?


This is not to say that policy choices are meaningless. But we should
be realistic about them. The influence of politics and policy is
usually swamped by the influence of culture, ethnicity, psychology and
a dozen other factors.


It is very hard for policy makers to use money to directly alter
these viewpoints. In her book, “What Money Can’t Buy,” Susan E. Mayer
of the University of Chicago calculated what would happen if you could
double the income of the poorest Americans. The results would be
disappointingly small. Doubling parental income would barely reduce
dropout rates of the children. It would have a small effect on reducing
teen pregnancy. It would barely improve child outcomes overall.

So when we’re arguing about politics, we should be aware of how policy
fits into the larger scheme of cultural and social influences. Bad
policy can decimate the social fabric, but good policy can only
modestly improve it.

Right. Let’s not try to fix anything. Fuck it. I’m tired. You know what I’ll do today? Go shopping. Because when I die what I want it to say on my tombstone is that my throw pillows matched. Jesus Banana Bread Christ. Are we really that scared to give a shit about anything? Yeah, you can try to fix the world and not get all the way there, but honest to God, is it really better to cite a source that says we should just basically ignore the poor because who cares, and then … do what, exactly?

Because this is my problem. I do not know what todo once we’ve reached the “what are you going to do hurf durf” point in the conversation. Where do you go from there? Yes, the world is fucked up, yes, the water is coming in faster than we can bail it out, yes, but … grab a fucking bucket and start bailing anyway. I mean, am I missing something here? Or does just about every Brooks column (and lots of those written by his colleagues, for that matter) just basically stop before he gets to the uncomfortable part about NOW WHAT? What do we do? Talk about Sandra Bullock’s divorce?

I do get that the misery is overwhelming. I do get the desire to shut the door on it. And I will take this shit from people who worked 40 years as social workers or juvie cops or public school teachers, I will take this shit from people who have been beaten down by actually trying to save everybody. I will take impotent despair and rage and fatalism from people who’ve spent a decade or more trying to fix the world’s problems and getting kicked in the face for it, because man, they put their two hands to work pushing the tide back.Lately, in the South, literally. So they’re owed.

What I won’t do is take this crap from Brooks, who not only has never gotten filthy trying to help the people he now says are beyond it all, but actually supported those who nurtured systemic poverty and a permanent underclass in the first place.


And this is because, as one of the Last Non-Shoutycracker Defenders of
Conservatism’s criminal ideology, Bobo is a bit like a Capulet stuck at
a Montague funeral.

With Montague blood still wet on his hands.

And a dozen trophy Montague ears dangling from his bandoleer.

Wearing a “F*ck The Montagues!” tee-shirt.

other words, in each column he must move Vewy Vewy Slowly towards the
exit, making polite, meaningless journalism-like noises en route.



11 thoughts on “We Can’t Fix Anything

  1. You know, he’s right about the “spending money” part of it, that if you double the amount there’s be a disappointingly small outcome. Poverty is partly economic, but over time it’s increasingly a state of mind as well. It’s a sense of despair that anything will ever change, that things will always be shitty so expect to be shat upon and live for this moment right now don’t even think of planning for anything beyond sundown. I get his point.
    But as you point out, he completely loses me with the implication that you just walk away. It’s the core of conservativsm, that sense that you’re on your own. It’s just stunningly callous. Here’ssomething else I quoted Sunday (sorry for all the block quotes today):

    The stupidity of the tea partiers has nothing to do with innate intelligence or with acquired intelligence. It has nothing to do with smartness or brainpower or where anyone falls on the bell curve of Stanford-Binet test scores. It is, rather, a moral stupidity, a moral imbecilism that produces simple imbecilism — the inevitable intellectual consequence of a selfish refusal to listen to what empathy is shouting from all sides.

    People like Brooks will never put themselves in another’s shoes, never try to figure out what to do with intractable social problems after the immediate and easy path has been tried. In practice his preferred organizing structure for humanity is not democracy or some kind of Randian utopia but a state of nature.

  2. I didn’t read it as an indictment of all public policies. I read it simply as a word of caution. Maybe I’m just not as prone to hyperbole as some.

  3. I read it as I read every bit of shit that Bobo flings “I’ve got mine, fuck you!” and “Poor people suck so why waste the money.”
    Oh,and the ever-popular “Poor people will just spend the money on drugs so don’t give them any.” Yo asshole, if you lived the depressing, degrading, boring existence that most poverty-level people do, you’d be a fucking drug addict too!!!

  4. “Bad policy can decimate the social fabric, but good policy can only modestly improve it. ”
    This assumes there is ano policy option. There is no such option. Ignoring a problem is a policy, most often a bad one.

  5. Just so you know, I’m in low income housing, working full time when I qualified, supporting my kid.
    Poverty is being poor. Nothing else. Come back when you want to talk about finding me a way to earn enough money to live on. Don’t talk to me about my state of mind.

  6. k, I didn’t mean to imply it was an across the board thing. But I’ve seen people have opportunities put right in front of them, pointed out, and generally been all but ushered to them, and have them remain inert. It struck me as something more than just not having enough money, but having some kind of permanent sense of despair that anything can be done to make things better. I shouldn’t have implied it was uniform, but I do think it’s a very real phenomenon.

  7. Thelaissez-faire capitalism Brooks so much enjoys (and is the wingnut welfare beneficiary of)creates the poverty about which he displays so much cynicism.
    But, hell, I don’t expect Brooks or his ilk to either connect the dots or link cause and effect, or be sorry that they are unwilling to do so.
    Sometimes, an asshole is just an asshole.

  8. That isn’t poor, that’s depression, or if you want, poor self esteem.
    Reduced circumstances make you very afraid. What happens if my car breaks down? I can’t afford a new clunker, let alone a decent used car. And if you make one wrong move, your security net gets cut right out from under you. Cripple yourself at your job? Oh, well. Die, then.
    It wears on you, always having to watch out. And I’m relatively new at it.

  9. Posted by: k | May 04, 2010 at 18:57
    And there are whole families who spend years, even decades living like that. Day to day, week to week, etc.
    On top of that, they have to breathe the same air as asshats who think that pointing out the gravity of their situation is engaging in ‘hyperbole’.

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