The Human Condition

When I was in a writers’ group years ago, my friend Alan had this gag he did when commenting on an obviously short or funny story.  “I found what it said about the human condition profound and illuminating.”  Or “This is obviously about the human condition, but other than that—”

Well, that gag made me hesitate to make this post, but this post IS actually about the human condition.

Yesterday just before going to bed, I read an article linked from Instapundit about poverty in the Appalachia.  Of course, this meant I spent most of an unquiet night (yesterday was one of those days where real life and interruptions intervened to keep me from going for a walk or even using the treadmill – by the time I had time to, I was dead on my feet.  For some reason just walking around most of the day, but not an uninterrupted, full out, fast walk of three miles, doesn’t allow me to sleep well at night.) dreaming of buying land in that region.  It was the line about violent crime being below national average and also the line about how cheap cost-of-living was.  Something in my back brain went “Well, it would be a place we could live in on my writers’ income.”

While this is probably true it would be quite stupid at my age, since I doubt there is any easy way to access emergency medical services.  (Yes, I’m only fifty, but my health has been iffy from early on, and I tend to work myself into sickness.  Also, given my inability to catch on that I’m ill till I’m VERY VERY ill, I have needed medical services in emergencies more than I should, and I don’t expect this trend to taper off.  Also, if we bought we would be buying for the rest of our lives, and I hope (fingers crossed) for another forty years with increased need for medical services as I go.  Which is one of the reasons for considering relocating to a LARGER city.)

Now I’m awake, and not shopping for land amid verdant hills I’ve driven through once or twice in my life, I was thinking about the article.

I have reasons to add some salt to it.  First the characterization as a “White Ghetto” brings with it a whole lot of freight which the journalist should have been wary of and clearly wasn’t.  Because of the title and leaving the correction about how low crime (other than welfare fraud) actually is, I imagined the images that “Ghetto” conjures: shootouts in the glades, women murdered in their houses… that sort of thing.

Turns out no.  While it is inhabited by a bunch of welfare recipients, has almost no stores (this possibly to the lack of population density) and lacks opportunities for local employment, this region is not a hell hole of gang shootings and violent theft.

Which immediately makes it completely different, and far more desirable as an address, than any urban ghetto.

In fact, the author says that for those who have money and who are “well connected” (though this is likely true I think the more important part is “self controlled”) it’s a paradise.

Which brings us to what is wrong with the rest of the local population, and how to help them.

The first is obvious and is going to make me sound horribly heartless.  The second… Ah the second is far more difficult.

The answer to the first is “There is nothing wrong.  They are normal, sane humans.”

And now you’re going to gibber at me about drug use and child neglect.  And – not here, but elsewhere – someone is going to call for more federal money dumped into the place.  They’ll call for more Head Start, more jobs programs.  The left who – with more than a bit of self flattery – will flap gums about how our technological society is leaving people behind, how all these poor people simply aren’t SMART enough to make money and thrive in the new new technological world.


This flatters the left insanely because they clearly are “smart” enough to thrive in the new technological world.  Lately in reading their stuff it’s all about power couples and marrying intelligent people and – bah.  They wouldn’t know intelligent people if one bit them in the arse.  They are what in our school system were A students.  These were never – at least when I was going through school – the actual SMART people (unless the smart people made a great deal of effort.)  True geniuses tended to be odd.  They dressed funny, sometimes had er… hygiene issues, and they had the confounded habit of correcting teacher.  As such, they were heartily despised by all right thinking people, and usually managed Bs, unless they were really really smart, in which case they trolled the D/F region.  In adulthood the geniuses I’ve known – those functional enough to hold a job – tend to hold jobs in convenience stores, fertilizer plants, or other menial positions where the fact they don’t dress fashionably and haven’t attended Harvard doesn’t matter.

This is why the beautiful people hold on to CREDENTIALS over accomplishments as signs of their specialness.

Which is why the “economy” the left is thriving on is a combination of glitz, glamour and valueless money printed at speed and of crony capitalism which devours the real substance of prosperity accumulated by our ancestors.


Part of the reason that even as the welfare model is collapsing all over the world, the left is hysterically seeking to bolster it is that they really think they are in a “With Folded Hands” future, where everything that “the little people” could do has been mechanized and therefore we should give the little people the means to survive and let them get stoned out of their minds, because, what else is there to do?  Kill them?  Oh, please, the left aren’t monsters.  They just hold on to monstrous ideas.  (Note I said “part of the reason” – some of the left is doing this for the power, of course, and to create a neo-feudal society.  But the rank and file of the evil party are not actually evil.  They’re just human and know a lot of things that just ain’t so.)

(Is there a lack of work for uneducated/not particularly intellectual people?  What, in the last 20 years?  Show me where the advances in manufacturing/computing/etc put these people out of work.  What is really happening is that our personal do-gooders have priced the US worker out of competition – and it’s not even the minimum wage, an effort as sane as legislating air humidity, as the crazed and increasingly futile environmental and other regulations – so the jobs have moved overseas.  This will correct itself either when the other lands create a middle class that demands better treatment – though they’re unlikely to demand crazy enviro regulations – or when we hang the komissars with their own guts.  Because as has been pointed out on this blog, there will always be need for the kind of mind that thrives on detailed, repetitive work, and which really really really doesn’t want to speculate about the causes of the Spanish-American war or read about Elizabethan England.  Whether these minds are less able, I refuse to even consider, because look… I couldn’t do what my plumber – or my hairdresser! – does.  I certainly couldn’t do what factory workers do.  It would drive me as batty as for them to do what I do.  Yeah, they test lower on IQ, a test designed to measure achievements of a certain kind.  We’ll just say they have different types of mind and that, without interference, there would be work they could do.)

So, what is wrong with these people is that they’re human.  When war on poverty was declared, it’s obvious what they were thinking of as an explanation for poverty was what is now called “The beesting theory of poverty.”  That is people are poor not because of any one big problem/injustice, but because of an accumulation of little things.  Car broke down, children got sick, got laid off, and is so held down that nothing – nothing – can lift you up again.

Does this happen?  Yeah, sure.  I’ve known cases of its happening to my friends and relatives.  I’d call it “crisis poverty.”  But I’d dispute the theory that this explains long-term poverty.

The facts seem to dispute it too.

I’m not just going on my own anedoctal experience – though I have that – having been in that situation at least twice in my life, and having clawed back out of it, or even in the experience of my friends and relatives, ditto, but on the fact that very few middle class people “fall” that way and never get up again.  In fact statistics seem to show the middle class moves up far more frequently than down.  I can’t find it, of course, but someone did an analysis of middle income in constant dollars, and the middle class has shrunk, as has the poor class, but the upper income has grown.

No, the sort of ground in, long lasting poverty is, as instapundit noted in linking this “the condition of the human race.”

Heinlein has a quote about it, and I’ve mentioned it here before:

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as “bad luck.”RAH

Insty mentions this, but Heinlein doesn’t go deeper into the mechanism, and neither goes insty.

Look, I’ll admit I don’t have any study on this, except what everyone has: that minimum income guarantees don’t make regions markedly richer (I understand that there was a program in Denver that spectacularly had the opposite effect.  I don’t remember when – the seventies?), that people on welfare that covers their bare minimum needs have trouble escaping it, and their kids have trouble escaping it, that socialist countries tend to go the route where no one quite starves but no one thrives, and everyone sort of simmers on at “poverty” level, more so as the years go by.  (Sweden? Norway?  Well, not enough years.  Despite the oddities of culture there – and yes, culture does count – they seem to be heading down, just not as dramatically and as fast as bigger and more diverse countries.)

Part of the issue with the war on poverty is that it seemed completely reasonable “Give people just enough to lift themselves up out of dire need and they’ll do the rest.”

Only people don’t work like that.  No?

Okay, do an experiment with your toddler: offer them a food they like well enough but aren’t crazy about – say eggs – and tell them they can have chocolate cake instead if they clean their room to your satisfaction.

Sure they’ll take the bait SOMETIMES, but most of the time they’ll shrug and have the egg.

I don’t know about other human beings, but I know one of the most prolific writers I know says he’s the world’s laziest writer.  He just FORCES himself to work.  And I can attest that I too often think I’m two people: one that wants to go bum out on the bed with a book, and the other who chases her around and makes her write.  (The chasing around time usually involves my bummish self trying to justify her leisure with increasingly crazy stuff like “I’m cleaning the litter boxes.  Scrubbing the toilet!  Ironing!)

I also know my older, extremely driven son, often tells me he is incredibly lazy and doesn’t force himself to do a quarter what he should.

I think all humans are lazy and all humans given a “minimum to live comfortably” don’t do anything else.  It’s not a bug.  It’s a feature.  A Neolithic hunter who continued hunting after he’d eaten enough for the day would deplete the food supply and the meet would rot.  This idiot left no descendants.  We’re descended from the sensibly lazy ones.

So, what about that “despised minority” – well, the despised minority that does more than strictly needed and thereby makes themselves “rich” and advances the wealth of all human race are usually, in social terms, deeply flawed.

It either has a tribal identity which needs security in mobile goods for the next time its crazy neighbors try to kill them, or it – one on one and individual on individual – is deeply broken.  Often they are Odds, and no, don’t get recognition just for “being smart” or whatever their oddity is, so they keep trying to get some recognition for SOMETHING.  And often they have other issues.  It is not coincidental that the lives of almost all great men often resemble horror tales, particularly the childhood parts.

There is another driver and that is a cultural identity that prizes work above all else.  The famed “Protestant work ethic” though I always thought that was funny as obviously there is the same thing on the Catholic side (but maybe there wasn’t at one time) was a powerful driver.  People would judge you for being lazy and not trying as hard as you should, and that in turn made people try very hard indeed.  Most people.  Because as Heinlein also pointed out the strongest motivating force for any simian, member of a highly social species, is the approval of its peers.

So you can see how when the “war on poverty” started and there were still fumes of this social judgment going on, the beesting theory would apply.  Oh, sure, there were still ne’er do wells who weren’t even pretending to try, but they were few and far between.  Most people would at the very least PRETEND they were trying to climb out.

So people looking from the outside would think “let’s make it easier”.

But the very fact of giving people unearned income makes two implicit assumptions: that poverty is not their fault and that it can and should be treated from outside.  (I.e. that there’s nothing they could do.)

That in turn changed the culture so people don’t at all feel guilty for not trying to climb out.  In fact the poorer they are, the more “deserving” and the more obviously burdened, and they should be given more stuff to bring them to parity with “luckier” people.

And then you have vast regions of poverty.

I resent very much the implication that the people of that region are good for nothing but being “peasants” – although in a right wing publication, the writer clearly buys into the left’s nonsense about “too dumb to thrive.”

Medieval peasants were in their unenviable condition because they needed the Lords to defend them in case of attack and this meant giving the lord rights to micro-manage their lives.  Which meant they could never climb out, because this was their “condition” – and yes, the lord looked after them in terms of keeping them alive.  And could kill them as well.

It might seem primitive to us, but it’s a highly sophisticated structure and far from natural.

As soon as the Black Death burst the bounds of the middle ages structure, the peasants took off into the wilderness, where they could take risks for their own survival AND they could innovate and be richer than ever before.

So, am I suggesting we abandon the people of Appalachia to their fate? Isn’t that cruel?

How much crueler can it be than what we’re doing to kids raised by drugged-out parents?  And what business is it of ours anyway?  Keep the payments for the elderly and the too young, and cut everyone else off.  Let them make their way to where they can make a living, or learn to wrest a living from the land again.

Horrible, right?  Well, it sounds horrible, even to me.  Because I grew up in a time when it was assumed it was the state’s right and duty to improve human lives – even in contravention of human condition.


The chances of it happening?  Not high.  So these people will go on living in pill-happy serf-like poverty (but producing nothing useful, unlike the serfs.)  Until and unless the gods of the copybook headings in terror return.  Or until the culture takes a turn where work is again enforced as a virtue.

And then we’ll find the vast majority of those “too stupid to thrive” people do indeed thrive and that most of them aren’t stupid at all.  They’re just human.

And here’s the truly stupid thing about humans: as much as we hate work, work is good for us.  When we work, we create something of value to others, and that raises our simian status among our peers, and in turn that’s good for our mental health and even our physical one.  (Work here being defined as doing something useful, not filling federal forms or polishing dog poo.)

And the more we work and the more confidence we gain, the more we find we can do, and the more interesting it becomes.

But none of us would start without some incentive that makes it more painful not to work.  For a lot of us that’s being not quite right in the head (what, you think a person who sits around writing lies for a living is sane?); for others it’s having something to prove; but for the vast majority of sane humans it is to need to eat and have a roof over their heads.

And this is why in the war on poverty we lost.  We met poverty and found that the seeds of it resided in each of our very sane normal brethren.

Poverty is normal.  Sloth is normal.  It’s we who work who are crazy. Absent that madness we’d all be living in caves and feasting-starving on hunted mammoth.



92 thoughts on “The Human Condition

  1. The fundamental error in government anti-poverty schemes is that it forgets that money isn’t the only thing with value. Time, especially time to spend as one sees fit, is probably the most valuable commodity known. There is going to be a large population who, assuming their basic needs are met, will gladly lounge about all day diverting themselves as they please. This has nothing to do with intelligence. Most of those bright C/D students you knew probably worked just hard enough to pass and then spent the rest of their time in more enjoyable pursuits.

    It’s an error I see again and again on the left. “Why would a climatologist lie to support global warming? There isn’t that much money in science.” No, but there’s plenty of prestige, a far rarer coin, and nothing flatters the ego like being invited to rub elbows with the likes of Al Gore in some tropical resort.

    1. Yep, and as far as Appalachia is concerned; I grew up around a bunch of guys from West Virginia. Some of the old men worked, and boys* on the one side of the family. Every one of the boys on the other side of the family were ‘disabled’ by the time I was old enough to know them. Most of their kids were either ‘disabled’ shortly after starting to work, or found some other way (like marrying an Indian woman) to draw a government check without working. Now I hunted around a bunch of the boys, and let me tell you that they weren’t disabled enough that men in there fifties and sixties couldn’t make a teenage boy sweat, trying to keep up with them.
      Like Jeff stated, time is the most valuable commodity known, and as long as their basic needs were met (and most had a higher income and standard of living than I did/do) then they weren’t going to waste their time trading it for money, when it could be better spent doing what they like.

      *The ‘boys’ as they were called, were the sons of two brothers and a cousin, both the old men and the boys moved out west as adults, so all of the ‘boys’ were old enough to be my father, and several were old enough to be a grandfather.

      1. The ‘boys’ as they were called, were the sons of two brothers and a cousin, both the old men and the boys moved out west as adults, so all of the ‘boys’ were old enough to be my father, and several were old enough to be a grandfather.

        Reminds me of old Bill Batman… he broke out of the Old Folks’ Home and ran off to “The Kid’s” ranch. “The Kid” was his brother’s son and a few years from collecting social security…..

  2. It is interesting to consider the long-term portrayal of “Appalachia,” a region which has been a butt of jokes and Yankee elites’ condescension since my Da was a lad, and he’s just turned Ninety. Some of the jesting has been inverted — Al Capp’s Li’l Abner was often a play on mainstream stereotypes, and (at least in the early years) the Beverly Hillbillies satirized the pretensions of Beverly Hills as much as it did the naivete of the Clampetts.

    I glanced across the NRO article t’other day and, well, weren’t much impressed, even though I generally enjoy Williamson’s work. Having grown up on the borders of Appalachia I learnt a few things about its people that are not readily apparent to outsiders.

    First thing is, these are inheritors of Scots-Irish culture. That means a certain independence and privacy in dealing with outsiders. T’ain’t normally the case that Appalachians have benefited from outsiders takin’ an interest, if you know what I mean. Being allowed to work in their coal mines and inherit the slag heaps is an honor many would as soon do without. Being catered to by arrogant do-gooders is equally tiresome and unproductive. So the first thing most do is put on “The Show” — provide visitors with what they expect to see so as to get their intrusion over with and get back to normal.

    I admit I haven’t lived in those parts in many a long day, so mayhap things have devolved as Williamson says, but I can’t help but suspect he is one more journalist who came, saw what the locals thought he was expecting to see and was sent on his way.

    That said, it is undeniable that government regulations discourages entrepreneurship and investment and government welfare encourages sloth. That thar is a toxic mix unless you’re in the bidness of disbursing government largesse, in which case it comes in mighty handy.

    1. RES, I thought so too. When Portugal was under the heel of an “oppressive regime” we were often the bout of “misery tourism.” I was too young to remember. And I’m not going to dispute the regime, being socialistic in nature, kept people poor. BUT having read the memoirs of people who were there at that time, they expected much worse, and largely found what they wanted to see, unless they were incredibly honest, in which case they declared themselves shocked we weren’t worse than backward areas in their own countries, and were often better in terms of abundance of food and such. (Shrug.) This is why the article annoyed me at a level I can’t rationalize. But even assuming what he said is true… the cure is not more federal “investment.”

      1. Appalachia is a large and complex area — greater in area than many nations. The idea that it can be summarised readily is … problematic. Giving Williamson his due credit, he seems to recognize that Welfare has exacerbated the problem and more of it won’t correct the issues. On fact, a recurring subtext is the fatuity of the prescriptions offered by our intellectual elite. That, and the inertial effects of culture and resistance to change in the ways prescribed.

        I suspect the lack of violent crime is in part because the diffused housing pattern eliminates the ability of gangs to form and hold housing projects hostage.

        1. The lack of violent crime is a cultural factor, not an environmental one. Go back to the source populations for this region, and you’ll find similar levels of violence and crime to the ones you find there.

          Same-same for the African-American community. Look at them separately, and compare them to other regions and nations, and they’re damn near spot-on with the rates of violence and crime in their origin culture/populations.

          Likewise, with Asians.

          We don’t like to admit it, at all, but there are some rather interesting things that stand out when you break these things out and analyze them. For one, there is an indicator that certain traits in cultures and individuals are apparently passed on by something other than culture, and that we don’t have a flippin’ clue what is actually going on with this stuff.

          What’s really interesting is going back in history, and looking at the rates of interpersonal violence, and how those rates have dropped in select cultures that have since separated from their mutual ancestors. Scots-Irish in the Old World once had one of the highest rates of interpersonal violence in the Western world, with high rates of fatality due to “honor issues”. The stereotype of the Scots-Irish drunken brawler is with us for a reason. And, yet… Today, that same population doesn’t exhibit the same rate of violence. Either in the UK, Canada, or the US, where there are significant sub-populations of that ethnic group. Indeed, when you compare the rate today between the three, it’s virtually the same. How the hell did that happen? If it was the environment, wouldn’t there have been significant differences between the three locales?

          There is something going on, which I’ll have to term “cultural genetics”, which we obviously don’t understand, because we refuse to study the issues. I’m going to contend that there is a strong, inborn and somehow bred in, component to behavior and cultural expression. Damned if I know how it works, but the observed facts lead us to no other conclusion.

          Supposedly, humans are so plastic that we pick up everything from our environment and education. I humbly beg to differ, with that thesis, and offer the number of times I’ve observed cross-generational repeats of behavioral traits and mannerisms that cannot have been passed on by mere mimicry. I have this nephew, you see, who is the very spitting image of his grandfather, who died back in 1990. The kid shows behavioral patterns identical to him, right down to some of the same damn mannerisms he had, and which were unique to him alone in the family. By what currently-accepted mechanism did this take place? There is no way possible for my nephew to be patterning himself on his grandfather–He was dead a decade-plus, before he was born. Nobody else in the family possesses those mannerisms, nor do any of his friends and acquaintances. How is this happening?

          Poverty is mired in the same set of “cultural genetics”. You have sub-segments of our society which have simply not got the traits they need to succeed, and who are perhaps not ever going to have them because of that. You can try to influence these people from the outside, but just like with alcoholics and drug users, the only time they’ll reform is when they reach a realization that the problem is internal, and then take steps to do it themselves. You can’t force it on them.

          My best guess is that these segments of the population are eventually going to keep going until things reach their illogical conclusion, and then we’ll have to deal with it the hard, confrontational way. Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven’s Welfare Islands may not be that inaccurate a forecasting of the future. Although, I suspect that this remnant population of near Stone-age culture is going to die off the minute we stop feeding them like we used to do with bears at Yellowstone.

          1. “There is no way possible for my nephew to be patterning himself on his grandfather–He was dead a decade-plus, before he was born. Nobody else in the family possesses those mannerisms, nor do any of his friends and acquaintances. How is this happening?”

            See “Beyond this Horizon” by RAH. Interesting on a lot of levels – genetics, guns, reincarnation to name a few.

            1. If Heinlein wrote it and published it, I read it before I was 15, or as soon as it was published.

              My contention is that there is something going on past the edges of what current science is willing to acknowledge. Either that, or there really is such a thing as reincarnation and/or ghosts. I can’t really answer the questions I’ve got about this stuff without resorting to that sort of thing, because it just doesn’t work without it.

              I hate to say it, but modern science demonstrates more of what we don’t know than of what we do know. I’m not even sure how the hell you’d go about designing a falsifiable testing process to prove or disprove some of the stuff I’ve personally witnessed and/or experienced.

              Back in what Carl Sagan used to refer to as the “demon-haunted” world, it was a lot easier to answer these questions: “Why is my nephew behaving just like someone he never could have known…?” “Because. Gods. Ghosts. Wee little sprites…”.

              Nowadays, you have to take it through a structured, logical framework. One that signally fails to include any way to explain the mechanism for what I’ve observed, and just looks the other way and whistles distractedly while it hopes I go away with my awkward little questions. There is not even an attempt by the geneticists and biologists to explain these things, because in their world-concept, there is no way for such things to be passed on.

              We not only know less than we think we do, what we know is demonstrably inadequate. And, since we can’t come up with a reasonable explanation, we ignore the question.

              1. Yes, lots of stuff that is not easy to explain. I’ve personally had encounters with precognition and distance viewing that don’t fit into my scientific background. As to RAH, I re-read Heinlein from time to time – even the juveniles are fun.

                1. I’ve found over the years here that there are several of us here who’ve seen things we really shouldn’t have, by the usual understanding, that even a ridiculously rational mind willing to excuse things as chalked up to misperception and misrememberance a la “Project Blue Book” would find it hard to explain.

              2. Genetics controls a lot more than we like to imagine. Look up “twin studies” sometimes. Identical twins, separated at birth, often have remarkably similar lives. The same behaviors cropping up inter-generationally should be no more surprising than the same faces doing likewise.

                1. My younger kid is SO much like my dad — with whom he’s spent cumulatively MAYBE six weeks spread over his entire life, and with whom he can’t talk at all — that he hits the same developmental landmarks at the same age, likes the same type of women, is studying a similar field AND when they’re together they understand each other perfectly with no common language. NO explanation. (They also look like the same person time displaced, except Marsh has a daintier nose and is about two inches taller.)

              3. Obviously the geneticists you are talking to are idiots (I don’t deem it necessary to even bother labeling the biologists after the ones I’ve met). All they have to do is look at domestic animals, behavioral tendencies are clearly genetic, we have been breeding for them for thousands of years before we ever heard of a gene. Look at say, English Pointers, there are lots of them that have been raised as family pets and never seen another pointing dog since they were weaned. Most of them will still go on a easily recognized point though, we seeing or smelling a bird.

                1. Or a lab that points helicopters. Yes, really. The owner, a flight medic who had purchased the pup as a hunting dog, was not amused. The rest of us thought it was a hoot. 🙂

                  1. That was worth checking my email! Love it, and I’m saving that story…

                    *mind of faithful companion*: “Dude. I can’t hold this all day. You gonna shoot it, or what?”

            2. Beyond This Horizon is an interesting story, but it was definitely written when Heinlein was still a Socialist. The biggest problem I had with that story was the notion that humans are naturally workers, and that because of their damnable productivity, they had to increase the money supply practically every year – sometimes spending it on public works as pointless as possible (but everything seemed to turn out to be useful), and sometimes adding to the public stipend, which was enough to get by on, if you didn’t want to get fancy things.

              1. We’ve sidestepped that damned productivity and just print money, much more efficient! We’re making great progress breeding out the productivity as well.
                RAH was wrong about lots of stuff, but even his failures are fun, and “The Sound of His Wings” may not be far off in our future. He said he didn’t have the heart to write that story, but we may be about to see it in person.

          2. On the Scots-Irish, you might find the story of Dagger John instructive. Sometimes you get a reformer who understands the problem he’s actually facing and figures out something appropriate to do with it. (When your priest picks up the nickname “Dagger”, you know he doesn’t mess around.)

            1. On the violent crime, two contributory factors occur to me.

              First, the lack of “choke points” in the society — places where application of force can yield disproportionate benefit. As I previously mentioned, with no housing projects it is difficult for a group to exercise sufficient control through violence for it to be rewarding.

              Second, as RAH said: An armed society is a polite society. It is well-nigh impossible for any group to achieve a decisive advantage.

              1. That, and reoccurring stories like the one a couple years ago, wherein one mechanic had his house broken into a second time, this time while he was at home, and shot them.

                May be harsh, but it’s chlorine for the gene pool. Stupidity has a price, sometimes it’s lethal.

  3. Semi-related: I was stuck on a bus a while back with this guy in the back who was moaning and complaining endlessly (not sure he ever stopped to take a breath) about how tough things were, how low wages were, life is hard blah, blah, blah.

    And then he mentions he owns two cellphones.

    1. When people don’t feel secure in what they might build, they stick to stuff they can carry.

  4. Consequence of elitism, and having your elite status reconfirmed for you as you march through the approved schools, is believing you understand. And that you’re qualified by virtue of status.

    So you get the phenomenon RES mentioned, they see what they’re shown and never look further. Of course those unfortunates could never conceal their real condition, an elite’s too smart for that. And then we get war on — whatever social issue. Fools, the lot of ’em.

    I favor limited government because I’ve yet to meet the individual (or any grouping thereof) that could understand even a fraction of what would need to be known to ‘run’ a modern country. Nor even read about such.

    Our modern elites know they’re smart enough. The vast majority of activities in our economy are beneath them, so of course they can read a brief and understand what they need in order to redesign it appropriately.

    Height of folly, that. But until the public spends more time pointing (and chuckling) at the naked emperor and his bouncing dongle we’re stuck with their certainties.

  5. All too often, the problems like this stem from an inability on the part of the “do-gooders” to really understand and process what they’re seeing in these situations.

    You can’t fix the situations the people I’ll term “the poor” by external means–In other words, “fixing” them isn’t going to happen. The reasons they’re poor have little to do with things in their external worlds. It all comes from what’s going on inside their heads. It’s not some giant conspiracy that’s “keeping the black man down”, it’s their own damn culture and internal values. Same thing in Appalachia. I’ve known a lot of these people over the years, and it’s readily apparent that the reason they have problems navigating themselves around modern conditions to a state of success or affluence has more to do with their world-view and how they behave in response to it.

    Take a look at the huge difference in experience between the Vietnamese boat people and the African-American community. Arriving here in the US, many Vietnamese wound up living cheek-by-jowl with the poorer African-Americans, in the same neighborhoods. Now, go look at those neighborhoods today: Where are the Vietnamese? They’re gone. Just like down in the Louisiana swamps where the first generation worked their asses off in the shrimping industry, the second generation was put through schools, and became doctors, dentists, and other professionals. There was nothing stopping those African-American or Cajun neighbors from doing the same damn thing, now was there? Yet, there they are, still mired in what we call “poverty”.

    How the hell do you “fix” that? Well, for one damn thing, just like the bears at Yellowstone, you quit feeding them. You want poverty? Gee, it’s a great way to get more of it, by paying people to be poor, which is exactly what the War on Poverty did. What LBJ should have called that was the “War to Buy Democratic Votes, and Employ Democrats in the Poverty Industry”.

    Seriously–Were you to take every dime allocated for the anti-poverty programs, and just gave that away as cash, the problem would cease to exist. Except for all those now-unemployed college-educated Democrats who work in the industry, that is.

    One thing that I think we’re going to have to acknowledge and figure out is that we’re in uncharted territory, here: Many of the iron-bound “laws of scarcity” are completely obviated by technology. We’re feeding most of our population with a tiny fraction of the number of people we used to require. So, in a sense, all of these non-participatory folk who we consider to be “poverty-stricken”, are really out-of-work agriculturists that we no longer need. What do you do with them, when the industrial segment doesn’t need them, either?

    I have a sneaking suspicion that the same trends that wiped out the requirements for a massive work force in the agricultural industry are soon going to be stalking everything else. What then? How do you manage all those idle people, and what the hell happens when most of the jobs in your society all require skills that only a small percentage can actually master? What the hell do you do when the only real employment opportunities come from jobs where you need an engineering degree to gain entry? How is all that going to work?

    We’re in the midst of a sea-change, here, and many of us are not even cognizant of that, or the likely consequences. My guess is that about 70-80% of the population is effectively superfluous to need in the future society we’re actually building around ourselves. How do you think they’re going to handle that, and how bloody likely is it that they’re going to want to participate in the “new world order”?

    I don’t know if Vernor Vinge is at all accurate with his prognostications of the Singularity, but I very much believe we’re heading towards a very similar situation, irregardless if it turns out whether or not we can build true AI to surpass our humanity. What the hell happens when you have a situation where 90% of a society can lay idle, while the 10% keeps everything running?

    1. Easy. Do nothing, and let them figure it out. Cut the welfare and social engineering- it doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked in Applichia and Africa and South America. Leash the greenies and chop the regs.

        1. Africa might be better off if we’d just left it the hell alone. The aid efforts have arguably done more damage than good, and they’ve dramatically failed to solve the problems they were meant to address.

          What the solution is, I have no idea. But the raw unpleasant fact is that we’ve already gotten to a situation where we don’t need all the people we have to run this civilization of ours, and the excess to need population apparently doesn’t handle idleness very well. We’re really at a very interesting point in human history, and I don’t see a glib solution for any of it at hand. It just isn’t going to work out if things keep going the way they are.

          One of the things that strikes me as being important is that we aren’t recognizing the fact that many of the old rules no longer apply. Things have fundamentally changed, with regards to how we produce goods and services–The old immutable iron laws of scarcity are weakening, and may already be dead. What happens when the Smarts, and the Odds start hauling in resources from asteroids, and the mining and manufacture jobs are all off-planet and automated? Will the rest of the population be reduced to living like modern-day cargo cultists, awaiting the next orbital drop from the factories and habitats?

          This is truly unknown territory we’re heading into. Human beings have historically not done well in situations of plenty. We almost need adversity. Remove the scarcity, and what happens to us? Lotus-eating contests?

    2. The problem with giving it away as cash is that the children of the parents who spent it all on drugs will then be paraded before the cameras as proof of our heartlessness.

      And no one will have heart enough to take the children away.

  6. Life in Appalachia and adjacent regions (I’m living in one myself, now, in the Alleghenies) is genuinely less expensive, and I mean tremendously so. The taxes are low (I pay less than $1000/year total for 300 acres with dwelling and outbuildings), the local government demands are reasonable and closely monitored, and the culture wants to get things done inexpensively both at the civil level and in private. There’s still corruption in local government, of course, but it’s on a much smaller scale.

    The Federal and State governments are a problem, but the culture is adept at dodging as much of the burden as possible.

    Also on the upside is the general popularity of outdoor activities, hunting, fishing, subsistence gardening, etc., the recognition of things more important than money, and the tradition of letting people live out their own eccentricities while still coming together for support in emergencies.

    The downside is: weak schools, middling hospitals, weak employment, driving some distance to go to stores (population density issues). But the advent of home-schooling and online retail takes a lot of the bite out of some of that, and self-employed types like us can weather the employment situation. That just leaves medicine, and if you can find a spot not too far from a regional medical center…

    All in all, the culture values rugged independence, back to its Scots-Irish roots. Some of that results in entrepreneurial criminal activity (meth, moonshine), but that’s always been true. There’s a dependent underclass, sure, but in the healthier parts of the region, no one respects them much (“them no account Fridays, they weren’t never any good.”) A culture that values independence also values respect, just like any well-armed culture. There’s a reason it’s a popular setting for rebellion or after-the-war-survival stories.

    And I’ll tell you one thing — lots of families having lots of kids here.

    1. When I was doing furniture assembly in people’s homes, I got to travel all over the countryside, including some very nice homes on large properties that were way-the-hell away from everything. And I would often ask myself “What to these people do for a living? Do they just drive two hours to work each day? How can they afford to live out here? And how could I manage it?”

      I have certain hermit instincts, and not being a man with a family, I’m not exactly a perfect fit in my suburban neighborhood (Although I do seem to be well-enough regarded. Some of the neighborhood kids even regard me as cool, but what do they know?)

      But I really do wonder what people who have very large nice homes out in the boonies do for their money.

            1. You can have line run to your land, sometimes. Takes a bit of investment, but worth it if you want to work from home.

              You can also save a piece by running it *to* your property and having the ditch already dug, ready for cable. And the house wired ready for the box, too, if you’re capable.

    2. The Greater Cincinnati area (not in the city itself, though) has middling taxes, decent schools, and some of the best Hospitals. And you can live within a half hour of basically everything.

          1. Well, yes, Cincinnati has those little Italian lizards in Hyde Park. But they’re not pests, and the traffic isn’t bad, and the hills down by the river really aren’t anything steep and high when compared to Colorado.

            Dayton is cheaper than Cincy and has darned good hospitals. You can get that same Air Force vibe you get in Colorado Springs. Plus you could always go up to Greenville to eat Maid-Rites and wave at Scalzi. 🙂

            (You know, I don’t think I’ve ever met the man. I guess I must’ve stopped going to local cons about the same time he started getting prominent. Probably just as well, as his novels squick me a lot. Not Octavia Butler levels, but a lot.)

            1. Unlike some here, I enjoyed the first three Old Man’s War novels, haven’t read anything else he has written though, because the man himself disgusts me and I hear his opinions shine through much brighter in his other works. Probably will pick up Zoe’s Story if I see it used however, because I liked the other novels in the series, but don’t plan on buying anything of his new.

          2. Was rec’ing it to others Sarah. I know that you don’t like it. I haven’t seen many lizards in Dallas. Traffic runs better in Dallas because there’s enough lanes for everybody. I’m sure that Amanda Green will agree with me about Dallas.

              1. The multiple lanes keep the traffic *moving*! 6 lanes are better than four. Every large metropolis has traffic.

                Do you prefer driving on one lane roads? I’m sure there are miles and miles of empty one lane roads in Texas. I prefer living near Dallas.

              1. Can we convince you to move? Will you move if I can get Dan a job here? If you hire Orkin as your pest control people and have them come once a month, you won’t have any lizards.

              2. That was no lizard, that was President Clinton. One is a cold-blooded, forked-tongue, skin-shedding belly-crawler and the other is a lizard.

  7. Well if you’re looking, let me suggest an area outside of Huntsville. Lake Guntersville Ala has foothills but is not too high (I have asthma and have found when I live at elevation I am constantly sick-i always wonder how high you are when you have another attack of not feeling good) is near better than avg medical facilities in Birmingham and Huntsville, and they grow the best tomatoes in the world. (Sandy rich soil) we are planning on finding out how grape vines do on a hillside near the lake in a few years when we can relocated from the regular jobs we galted to when we figured what was coming. Area has a somewhat Independant personality, and the rockets are a short drive if you like that sort of thing. 😉

    1. I live at 6,035 ft. but I haven’t needed the ASTHMA inhaler but once in 20 years, while I was tethered to it in Columbia, SC. When I was little my parents were told to take me “high and dry” and until about the last five years, high and dry worked. … might be overwork? Or this being a military town while we’re involved in foreign parts and soldiers come home carrying interesting stuff.
      I tell you, though, the chance of growing vines… This yard doesn’t grow ANYTHING. Next house, I want a vineyard.
      My biggest issue with the south east is that I’m afraid asthma will start up again and also that I’m VIOLENTLY allergic to fleas and they’re a fact of life in those altitudes particularly if you have pets. (We didn’t, but we bought a house of someone who did. Moth balls in the vacuum and we flea bombed every other month AND we still had issues.)

      1. You might find the eastern side of the Cascades/Sierras more congenial, somewhere just around the dry edge of the rain shadow. I’ve got a friend who’s had a lifelong issue with asthma who has thrived up here. Too much further east, however, and you get into the agricultural areas where they have a lot of dust and smoke.

          1. Only occasionally. Like, maybe every 5-10 years or so. Mostly, the idiots who live around here panic at the first snow of the season and act like there’s two feet of it on the ground. Then again, the hills and likely ice patches mean that schools close if there’s a moderate dusting (‘course, I live in KY – across the river, there’s not so many hills after you get outside the city a couple of miles).

  8. Sarah, have you ever read Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart”? Best analysis of the roots of poverty I’ve seen in awhile.

    I think I subscribe to the P.J. O’Rourke theory of why Scandinavia is going downhill under socialism more slowly that other places: The native population had to be pretty tough to survive under sub-Arctic conditions on land well scrubbed over by the last ice age. That toughness keeps them working hard under socialism longer than most.

  9. And – not here, but elsewhere – someone is going to call for more federal money dumped into the place.

    Well, as a proud Odd I’ll be the guy who inverts the stereotypes, stands up for the little guy, and proudly present self serving confiscatory statist overreach…oops, lost my self filtering module there for a minute… OK, I just reset it and it looks good, so onwards…

    Au Contraire, Dona Hoyt! I rise today to propose the imposition of a TAX, which I’m calling the Parasite Economic Stabilization Tax Act, of 25% on all economic activity in any area or region which, during any recession, depression, or general economic downturn, experiences perverse positive growth. Clearly such an area is simply a damaging parasite on the host of the body of the nation, sucking the host’s life’s blood while returning no concurrent benefits. Obviously any region gaining boom times from the misery of others can only be happy to contribute some of their excess gains to support their less-geographically-fortunate brethren, such as these documented above in the nation’s Appalachian region! Besides, It’s For The Children! And the Dogs and Cats!

    The fact that, in this last period of unfortunate and Unexpected! Totally Bush’s Fault! economic downturn and non-recovery, the only area that saw unconstrained growth and prosperity while the rest of the country suffered through Great Depression II, The Sequel!, and thus the only area that would have paid this tax, was Washington, D.C. and surrounds, is pure coincidence, and the P.E.S.T. Act should not be seen as any type of confiscatory punishment nor a wishing of A Pest On Both Their Houses.

    Thank You Madam Speaker – I yield back the balance of my time. I now retire the the cloak room to look for my cloak.

  10. Sarah I found this to be a wonderful piece on the human condition and how it interacts with comparable conditions of alien life. The light interplay in your contrasts does a marvelous job of bringing forth that wry sense of humor I love.

  11. Thank you for this. I read the Williamson article and was annoyed by it, particularly since Glenn of Instapundit, who should know better (being from Tennessee himself) recommended it.

    I’ve lived in West Virginia since 1994. We’re probably going to have to retire elsewhere because my lungs can no longer take the West Virginia winters, but it’ll probably be somewhere else in Appalachia, just farther south. Yes, the closest Wal-Mart is 45 minutes’ drive away (for some reason, this has never disturbed me anywhere near as much as it did Williamson), but contrary to his speculations, FedEx and UPS do deliver regularly and reliably, if a little more slowly than elsewhere.

    Most people in West Virginia own their own homes, and a high percentage of those who work can live well on one parent’s salary. Outside the cities, violent crimes and property crimes are very rare.

    Yes, the closest hospital is 45 minutes away and the closest teaching hospital is more like an hour and a half. Yes, if I have a heart attack, I’ll probably die on the way to the emergency room (though our volunteer rescue squad is pretty darned good, all things considered).

    But it’s worth it to own a two-story house with outbuildings (including a library with wall-to-wall bookshelves!) on 45 mountainous acres, with our closest neighbors a quarter-mile down the one-lane road. We own our home free and clear, too; we paid off the mortgage within ten years.

    I was city-born and raised; it’s my good luck that my husband wasn’t. If we’d stayed in Virginia, by now we *might* have managed to afford a small condo of our own. But we’d probably still have been paying a mortgage on it. Of course, no doubt a Wal-Mart would have been only 15 minutes away from it. Perhaps, for Mr. Williamson and his ilk, that would have made it all worthwhile. But I don’t think it would have for us.

    1. I have never lived within a half hour of a Wal-Mart, or I was going to say hospital, but I did live close to a hospital for about three years. I find people that think this is a huge detriment baffling. Of course I grew up at the end of a road, twenty miles from town. It was just a fact of life that when you went grocery shopping you bought what you needed for a week or two, because if you were out of milk when you started dinner you didn’t run to the store and buy a gallon, you did without.

      1. This has to do with the relative perception of “Far.”

        Where I now live, twenty minutes is a far drive. In cities in which I’ve been, twenty minutes is the time you allocate for finding a parking space (one reason city folk walk so much.) Elsewhere in the country you measure “far” in terms of hours or tanks of gas. Many people think having to travel an hour or two for the hospital or a Walmart is a fair price to pay for not living all crowded up t’gither.

        Beloved Spouse reminded me of a story repeated during the Ariel Sharon coverage of him taking George W Bush up in a helicopter to give him a good view of Israel at its narrowest point, some nine miles across. Bush, on seeing this, reportedly commented that “In Texas, that’s a driveway.”

        1. One of my grievances about how the city has changed in 20 years is that I’m no longer within walking distance of anything useful. Tons of touristy stuff, bars and restaurants, but no deli, supermarket, bookstore. When we first moved here, I walked every morning on my daily rounds and didn’t feel like I was wasting time because parking would take longer. Ditto when the kid’s school was smack downtown, I’d RUN two miles for an emergency, because driving took twice the time — parking.

        2. Someone once opined that the difference between easterners (as in east of the 100th meridian) and westerners is that easterners measure distance in miles and westerners measure it in hours.

          1. Yep, I run into this whenever talking to someone from back east, whenever they mention distances to something they always tell it in miles.

            1. I’m east of the 100th meridian but not by much–96th meridian. And I do this. It’s the only reasonable way to gauge distances on the Great Plains. Consider me at the southern end of the Great Plains(Dallas). Austin has hills and Houston is coastal.

  12. You know, it occurs to me that I ought to add (because this is a forum that would understand and appreciate it!) that I actually live in, or rather near, Flint’s “Grantsville.” My house would have been within the ten-mile ring sent back to 1632 in the book of that name. I was very surprised when I first read the book to see place names I knew well.

    And I would have been dead the first winter without the various medicines and supplements I’d have needed to stay alive, but *ignoring* that, it would have been exciting if it had happened. 🙂

  13. In adulthood the geniuses I’ve known – those functional enough to hold a job – tend to hold jobs in convenience stores, fertilizer plants, or other menial positions where the fact they don’t dress fashionably and haven’t attended Harvard doesn’t matter.

    I’ve come across a number of partially socialized uber-genius-level folks deep in the labs of lots of tech companies out here in Silicon Valley. Generally their workspace is a disaster, they get a long not at all with any co-workers they interact with unless someone has carefully screened and hired a dedicated ‘keeper’ lab assistant to try and buffer and/or contain any issues, and when it comes down to it they don’t actually do a lot of clockwork geniusing at all. But every once in a while they come up with a doozy that justifies all the work the rest of the company has to put in to keep them around, and so they are rewarded with yet more stock options that get stuffed into a drawer.

    In line with what Sarah has said, these people are Odds who are just a bit further along the bell curves, but who managed to get educationally credentialed into a narrow specialty that holds their interest. If they run across an ubersales/marketing/entrepreneur type along the lines of Steve Jobs, you can see them get some fame (see Steve Wozniak), but they are not the ones starting companies, and you may never hear of them even though you are using their ideas every day.

    1. When my brother worked at IBM, he told me they had a “think tank”-type of lab, where the guys who worked there were very similar: they would stay away for weeks at a time, they had no social life because they were socially inept, needed someone else to pick up after them, but once in a while they would stumble in with a light in their eyes, work 16 or more hours a day until they had worked out whatever idea they had, and present something awesome when they were done.

        1. There’s a hilarious Spider Robinson short story about two (IIRC) guys who attempt to burgle what they think is a vactioner’s abandoned house (unkempt lawn, piled up papers) only to discover they’ve intruded on a writer in full creative force.

          I think it predates Home Alone; I could look it up but would liefer not.

    2. When they work in the field they can be disaster! Do you know hard it is to run testing (of code etc.) when the developers are clueless? ARRRGHHHH!

  14. Mark Steyn wrote a similar essay about a much smaller group, whose pathologies were much more pronounced:

    As for what should be done about the lower half of the IQ curve, I tend to agree with Frederick Douglass when asked what should be done for the black man: “What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!”

  15. Loved your digression on smart people. I won’t lay claim to that – I’ve known some people on the Bar that I consider scarily well read and competent – and I’m satisfied in being quick enough to follow them. Nevertheless, I was definitely in the “aced the SAT’s, got D’s and F’s” category. My physics teacher (who liked me) talked to me after class one day after weeks of trying to get me to stop reading with a book under my desk (ready about 4-5 books most weeks…). Having seen the notes I took, he asked how in the hell I managed to take them, read all the time, and still answer his questions correctly when called…

    Actually doing my homework my senior year got me straight A’s – and landed me at the exact breakpoint between the upper 3/4 of the class and the lowest.

    I still don’t think I’d have made it through twelve years in the Navy without being raised in the marines. Saw plenty other eccentric-smart types get washed out because they couldn’t take the structure.

  16. Additional comments from Williamson, edited for concision:

    A Correction from Paul Krugman
    Paul Krugman offers an actually interesting correction to my Appalachia report: Whereas I had argued that the declining economy of Owsley County, Ky., has resulted in high unemployment, welfare dependency, and lost population, Professor Krugman points out that what really has happened is that the declining economy of Owsley County, Ky., has resulted in high unemployment, welfare dependency, and lost population. Given that Professor Krugman and I hold irreconcilably opposed worldviews, one of us has to be wrong, and I am man enough to admit that it’s me.
    Of the many useful services that Professor Krugman provides, explaining to me that which I just saw with my own eyes is surely the most valuable. As I have written before, even if we take into account the fact that the entire socioeconomic spectrum is thickly sprinkled with people who are not especially bright or notably responsible, most poor people are probably in a better position to judge for themselves whether they need an extra $1 in food or an extra $1 in gas or an extra $1 applied to their utility or insurance bills than is a remote bureaucracy.
    Professor Krugman and those who share his orientation see the bottom half, and maybe even the bottom 80 percent, of citizens as passive participants in economic life, not people who do things but people to whom things are done, the direct object in Lenin’s summary of politics: “Who? Whom?” And from the point of view of the policymaking class — not just the progressive perches at Princeton but the policymaking class in general — it is easy to see the great majority of the American public as something like dogs exhibiting various degrees of ruliness while waiting for table scraps. People cannot be expected to live. It is up to “the nation” to “offer” them life.
    Even with the considerable resources commanded by the government of these United States, there are real limitations on what can be done for people through the conventional welfare array.

    The real question is whether we are going to think of poor people as pets. If we do not think that they are dogs begging for scraps — if we believe them to be fully human – then we have to account for the choices people make. Much of what I saw in Appalachia I have seen in rural Texas and interior California, or looking out my window in the South Bronx. But the intellectual isolation of the ruling class can on occasion approach the absolute, which is why we have all these morally titillating debates about affirmative action at top-tier law schools while barely a third of black and Hispanic boys in New York graduate from high school in four years. The objects of public policy are an abstraction, which is why in the case of poor Appalachia our friend Professor Krugman, charts and all, sees less than he imagines himself to have seen.

        1. And yet ‘full’ is a proportional measure. Capacity only informs how much a full receptacle would yield, which absent that eventuality is not really very useful – ‘full’ is still ‘full’.

  17. The chasing around time usually involves my bummish self trying to justify her leisure with increasingly crazy stuff like “I’m cleaning the litter boxes. Scrubbing the toilet! Ironing!


    *looks guilty*

    The autumn leaves really needed to be raked over on to the bare patches the van left there before Christmas before I finished cleaning the living room?

    (For those going “what?”– cleaning the house, one room at a time, was my NYearsRes.)

  18. And of course, the problem is further exacerbated by the fact that anti-poverty programs are — true to the prediction of Pournelle’s Iron Law — run by bureaucrats and principally _for_ bureaucrats. They have no interest whatsoever in alleviating temporary conditions of poverty among those inclined to work if given a chance to do so (“crisis poverty”, in the phrase of Our Beloved Hostess), because the continual servicing of a multi-generational culture of cradle-to-grave poverty is so much more reliable as a source of sinecures for themselves and their cohort.

    Which is why in purchasing power parity terms, a person who devotes their life to maximizing the welfare lifestyle ends up economically equivalent to a person who earns $65,000/year by working at a productive job…and that’s _without_ accounting any value at all to the life-tenure aspect of the welfare lifestyle, as measured against the risk that a gainfully employed person might lose their job through no fault of their own…let alone the fact that earning $65k/yr or more while habitually and persistently intoxicated (whether by illegal drugs like pot or meth, or by legal ones like alcohol) is essentially impossible for virtually the entire population of a modern society, while gaining the equivalent purchasing power through the government isn’t even especially hard.

    If those in power wanted to fix the incentives, they could. Not perfectly, of course, but a hell of a lot better than those presently in place. But they don’t. Because a permanent underclass on lifelong welfare is the perfect soil in which to grow and sustain a permanent overclass on career-long civil service rolls.

    1. Thus the distinction between the Church and the State. The former prefers to address charity retail, one person at a time; the latter engages charity wholesale, in bulk, the better to alleviate the poverty of the providers. When you do charity retail there is always the risk that a recipient, feeling gratitude and a sense of personal worth, will seek to justify your efforts by lifting himself out of poverty.

  19. Work here being defined as doing something useful, not filling federal forms or polishing dog poo.

    My mom has a theory that the reason ranchers, unless killed, tend to live until they stop working is BECAUSE they know they’re important.

    Don’t feed a cow, it dies; don’t file a gov’t form, and… it’s a one in a billion that it will matter at all to you.

  20. I’ve so far successfully resisted the impulse to comment on the original article. For good, bad, and worse he’s implied and alluded to some things that, well, just ain’t so.

    Still trying to decide whether to comment or not. Sometimes it’s best to leave misconceived notions alone. If they turd burglars in office (or in media) are planning another “development” in my backyard, though, might be worthwhile to speak.

    We’ll see.

    And for Meredith, up in West Virginny, I have relations that moved up there to get away from the rest of the family, too, and they tell me it’s beautiful. I’ve been by on the way to Manassas the long way- great drive in the fall when the leaves are changing. *grin*

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