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alain de botton

This article in the Washington Post really gets at the crux of the difference in outlook between liberals and conservatives:

Chaffetz was articulating a commonly held belief that poverty in the United States is, by and large, the result of laziness, immorality and irresponsibility. If only people made better choices — if they worked harder, stayed in school, got married, didn’t have children they couldn’t afford, spent what money they had more wisely and saved more — then they wouldn’t be poor, or so the reasoning goes.

[ . . . ]

Since the invention of the mythic welfare queen in the 1960s, this has been the story we most reliably tell about why people are poor. Never mind that research from across the social sciences shows us, over and again, that it’s a lie. Never mind low wages or lack of jobs, the poor quality of too many schools, the dearth of marriageable males in poor black communities (thanks to a racialized criminal justice system and ongoing discrimination in the labor market), or the high cost of birth control and day care. Never mind the fact that the largest group of poor people in the United States are children. Never mind the grim reality that most American adults who are poor are not poor from lack of effort but despite it.

Conservatives believe in a meritocracy; people who get ahead do so because they “deserve” to, because they’ve worked hard and pulled themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps. The flip side to that is that poor people or the less successful are seen as also “deserving” of their failure, because they’re lazy, stupid, or otherwise unworthy.

Liberals tend to believe that success and failure are mostly based on factors completely outside of one’s control: Systematic and structural factors that set some people up with advantages that allow them to succeed despite themselves, and others with such insurmountable odds that it would take a miracle to defy them.

As usual, the real truth lies somewhere in between the two. A lot of our success or failure *is* structural and outside of our control. And our choices and actions do matter, but they’re not the only things that matter. I think so many people struggle with the notions of systematic discrimination and privilege simply because they don’t want to let go of feeling like they’re in control of their own lives. I get that. I really do. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to attack people for being poor, though.

Alain de Botton has a good TED talk about this, which is worth a watch if you have a few moments.

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