>Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.
No... this is being "poor", i.e. still in the top third or more of humanity as far as living standards.
Being poor is what the people I visited in barrios in Ecuador do - living in huts made of corrugated aluminum and scraps of wood, with a dirt floor, no plumbing or electricity, access to education, healthcare or clean water. Oh, and also having almost no way of changing your situation, no matter how hard you try. Surprisingly, these people were in general happier than well-off people in America, because they had a strong faith, strong families, strong relationships with others in their community, and were just plain tough.
I guess after visiting a third world country and seeing how hard the truly poor work every day, how much they care for what little they have, and how thankful they are for everything, I feel a little less sympathy for the "poor" in America. I wish they could spend a few weeks in a truly poor country, and then realize what an amazing land of opportunity they live in.
Telling someone to be grateful that they have a roof over their head since most of the world doesn't won't make them any happier about shivering under a blanket because they can't pay the gas bill for heating. Yes, it could be worse, but it could also be a lot effing better, From my own experience, the whole thing tends to dull the mind to an extent where opportunities are no longer so obvious - or so easy to pursue (£5 for a domain name that may not pay off, or £5 to eat for a week and I'm bloody hungry).
True, absolute poverty is horrific and all efforts should be made to ensure that no one has to endure this through no fault of their own, but that doesn't make relative poverty a non-issue where people need to man-up. Of course, you weren't so extreme as to say that, but it gets side quite a lot and I don't really think it helps much tbh.
It just feels to me that the poor in first world countries have a victim mentality that keeps them from working with the kind of hard determination that not only gets people out of poverty, but builds up the nation in the process.
Do they need more help to develop that work ethic? Probably. Do they need more handouts? I think that is what's keeping them where they are.
Right. And staying where you are is exactly what you want to do when you're almost drowning.
Not that that proves anything. Discussions like these are 90% a game of "re-enforce my confirmation bias," imho. Believe people are poor because they make bad moral choices? I'm sure you can find lots of great examples of that. Believe people are poor due to external societal forces? Ditto. A question I'd like to see more of in these types of discussions is "what would falsify my theory of poverty?"
But, the thing is, every US state that gets cold enough in the winter has heating assistance aid available from the utility companies. If you can't afford to pay your gas bill in the winter, it gets paid for you. This seems to be mandated by the public utility commissions.
So, if you're shivering under a blanket because you didn't pay your gas bill, it's probably your own damn fault that you didn't apply for home heating assistance. I've even had the gas company mail me a big letter in multiple languages when I was a few days late paying my bill saying "do you need help paying your bill? Please call us." And in a lot of northern states, it is illegal for the gas or electric company to shut off your utilities in the winter months, as long as you can prove financial hardship.
> From my own experience, the whole thing tends to dull the mind to an extent where opportunities are no longer so obvious - or so easy to pursue
The way that is written shows a huge problem in peoples' perception - why do we assume the poor can only get by if opportunities are "obvious" or "easy to pursue"? Working your way up society's ladder is HARD, but people are capable of amazing things when it's their only way out. Throwing scraps to the guys at the bottom of the ladder will only take away motivation to make the long and difficult climb. Don't we want people to look back on their lives with pride on what they accomplished, in the face of difficult odds, rather than disappointment that their lives were spent living off of others' charity?
So while I don't think that throwing scraps to the guys at the bottom is going to be effective it still better than all the alternatives that have come before. Those tend to end up as revolutions, civil wars, or worse.
I consider practically every religion on the face of the planet as unethical, and I doubt I am the only one on this board who do so.
So if you forgive me, that argument has negative weight too.
And if the only thing that you don't like about my post is religion than you can piss off too. Because you've completely missed the point.
Being poor is miserable because you look around you, and see how other people have it better. Poor people in America don't see Ecuadorians living in shacks, they see people driving to their big house in a Lexus, and relaxing by taking a dip in the pool.
In third world countries, there is an infrastructure to support expectations. You aren't the only poor person, there is direct feedback that "we're all in this together".
However, in the first world, there is a great amount of isolation that can be crippling. We have very fragmented communities, especially in the suburbs.
Poverty is real, and dismissing it because it doesn't seem as "legitimate" as some other place and different social context doesn't help anything. It's very naive to assume that because we've got access to "better tools" we should be grateful.
Read the Bell Curve. See how IQ is affecting the utility of the workforce in the United States. Imagine being born below the magical IQ to be effective in modern American society.
Imagine being useless to the world around you. Imagine waking up every day feeling hopeless.
Poverty has nothing to do with dirt huts. It has everything to do with feeling as though you can control the situation of your life. It has everything to do with not feeling like a net drain on the world.
I look at the "illegal immigrants" to this country who stand out front of Home Depot every day by my house, looking for someone to pick them up for work, and see hope. I imagine this was similar to my great great grandfather standing in a mob outside a factory hoping for a day's work. These new Americans will give rise to a generation following them that saw their parents work hard to provide them with opportunity even though they were faced with incredible hurdles. Hopefully that generation continues the hard work, and keeps this country vital.
The fact that I only see new immigrants doing this though, is what is disturbing. If the rest of the poor were so eager to get ahead, they'd be doing the same - and eventually, succeeding.
This encompasses a lot of my reaction when I first read this article a few years back, and before I spent some time volunteering with charities in the US. I was, frankly, angry. Most of the time, being poor in the US is not a matter of sheer survival (except for health care), but simply a very deep hole which is hard to climb out of. But possible, right? So why not just do it?
But these days, this reaction is what really angers me. It's still a fucking deep hole. And the psychological effect of being raised in these circumstances is what doesn't get acknowledged a lot. A lot of the time you have to be taught that it's even possible to dig out of it, let alone how. This is especially true if you were raised in poverty, by parents who were also raised in poverty, in a place where the schools are a joke and you don't know anyone who has been successful. It's very easy to simply despair in these conditions, and not even realize it might be possible for things to change, because as far as you know it's not. And while the rare person might be able to summon the willpower to escape this, I'd like to know how many people truly think they could if they had never even seen what success looked like, except on TV.
Hell, I was raised in an area which was simply rural middle class, not poor by any definition; and almost no one there could imagine that good schools, good health care, or a substantially better life were in reach. The idea of attending any private university, let alone an Ivy, was a joke. And we were luckier than 99% of the world, and knew it! For some... I simply can't imagine.
The dismissive attitude exhibited in so many tech forums towards the poor is just infuriating, both in the "lazy poor" category and the "it's not as bad as elsewhere!" type. If you're in that situation, it doesn't matter that there's someone out there worse-off. What does matter is if you were brought up to think success isn't possible, you despair of making anything better, and you've lost hope. I won't argue back and forth about "handouts" because a lot of the time that's used to be dismissive too. But making it known that it's actually possible to have a better life--that is what needs to be done.
(Tangentially, it's worth pointing out that Scalzi acknowledges the difference between being poor in the US and in the Third World, as in his followup post here: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2005/09/04/quick-followups/ .)
He is complaining about having heat in only one room of the house, when people in other countries don't even have 4 walls and a roof. In the US we have heating assistance that will pay your gas bill if you can't afford it. You just have to have 2 brain cells to rub together and enough literary skills to fill out a piece of paper and apply for it.
How is this any different from how all of humanity lived for millennia, up until about ten thousand years ago?
I don't mean to sound condescending or dismissive, I'm just wondering why more people don't see these circumstances as an opportunity to develop mature, self-reliant communities, and instead presume that some external catalyst is necessary to improve the situation.