The Human Condition, a Blast From The Past From January 2014

*Sorry guys.  Hopefully this is THE last “fill in” post before I come back full force, but I really need to work on Guardian and get it out of my hands, at least for a while.  Of course, tomorrow might be Amanda’s post.  She is apparently doing a second post on Hillary’s book.  One is between interested and horrified.  The things my friends do to themselves.  I shall have a link for you to send her the price of a drink, because, really.
Anyway, as is I spent too much time evaluating BPFs, but this one seems to be the most relevant right now. – SAH*

The Human Condition, a Blast From The Past From January 2014


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 meat 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 bee sting 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.

118 thoughts on “The Human Condition, a Blast From The Past From January 2014

  1. So, Guardian is approaching completion of Stage One? How delightful!

    What is the next book on which you will be impossibly behind? Or is that books?

    1. I’m already impossibly behind on Dyce IV, but since it’s Indie, it shouldn’t require heroic efforts. There’s no one but readers waiting for it, and it shouldn’t blight their income if I’m late. (Rather the other way.) At any rate, I have a week’s work on that, so I’ll count on two.) Then there’s Royal Blood, and then there’s typing in something that I called Space Witch, but is … off, because main character is guy. Eh.

          1. “Space Magic” sounds like it should be the name for some type of storage system being hawked in one of those “As Seen on TV” ads, or maybe a company that builds custom closets.

            1. I was considering “Space Wizard” but that seems to suffer the same problem.

              “Magician To The Stars,” “Cosmagyx” or “Astro Wizard” don’t seem to carry much “pick me up and read the blurb” affinity, do they? “Star Mage” anyone?

              1. Sometimes I start with the title, sometimes slapping some title on the cover (and making sure it works, graphically) is the last thing I do. Sometimes I start out with a title and then the story doesn’t fit it in the end. And sometimes I think up the title halfway, and it provides a lot of inspiration thereafter.

              2. Sarah, I don’t think you can beat me there. The WIP (mil-SF / space opera) had the perfect working title for several months.

                Perfect, that is, for a rather different genre. I mean, what would you expect from a book titled Sins of the Cousins?

                1. Romance. With an edge of forbidden erotica.
                  Darkship Thieves went through FIVE TITLES. I no longer remember them all. I know the first was Game of Cat and Mouse, and one of them was Athena Rising. Yeah. Then I was talking to a mentee and she asked if I was done polishing the Darkship Thieves book and my mind went “Ta DA!”
                  This one is written, and I’ve only given it a cursory glance (it’s long hand.) I’m sure once I’m fully in it it will come up. Problem is signaling both SF and F. Otherwise I’d call it something like “A Criminal of Earth.”
                  I’m toying with “The Planet Curse” right now.
                  There’s also an almost finished novel called Winter Prince. It will be called that. It will not let change it. Unfortunately it’s space opera. I’d best signal like h*ll in title and blurb. I know the second one is Spring Warrior and Summer King. G-d help me.

              3. Actually, “witch” is the proper term for both female and male practitioners of the Craft. Unless he’s evil of course – then “warlock” is correct, as it’s hard to be evil without breaking oaths right and left.

                1. Don’t know how this reply got posted separately from this comment:

                  That could lead to a nice running gag:

                  “You are a witch? But you’re a guy!”
                  “I get that a lot, but yes, I am a guy and a witch. Stop stereotyping!”

                  Don’t much care, either. Word Press. Hmmph. Pfui.

                    1. For what it is worth, “A Mankind Witch” is available in the Kindle store. Apparently, Dave Freer now has full rights to it and is “publishing” it himself.

              4. Teenage Wizards from Outer Space
                The Wizard of Space
                The Space Wiz
                The Mage from Zero-G
                Plan 9 from Wizard Space
                Magic in the 24th and a Half Century

                Bleh. Title magic is what’s needed. Everything I’ve thought of is worse than Space Magic. And I should be asleep right now, darn it.

                1. Teenage Wizards from Outer Space would work great if my characters weren’t in their late twenties, and one of them from Earth, the other from Mars. The Mage from Zero-G ditto. Plan 9 would be great if I were making a parody, and so would the last one. Unfortunately it’s serious as a heart attack. Which I might have if you continue making up titles that bad. Don’t make me come through the screen and hit you with a frying pan!

                  1. Does it have any mecha?

                    Any named space wars?

                    Because I’m quite stupid from allergies, and still trying to attach Gundam type marketing flavor.

                  2. I’m imagining an astronaut on a broom with a pointy hat on the cover of a hard sci fi story.

            1. Close, but “Magic” lacks persona. Perhaps “Mage in Spaaaaace!”?

              The Mage, in Space,
              Feels mainly out of place.

          2. The surest signal of magic in space is Mobile Suit Gundam, excepting the cream of the series, Gundam Build Fighters, which is magic that is purely on solid ground.

    1. Materialism sucks. While poverty of the stomach sucks, poverty of the soul is a standard – necessary, even – accompaniment to Marxism.

    2. And there is the statement which I have heard that while some do indeed take vow of poverty, nobody (sane?) takes a vow of destitution.

      Also, as mentioned before, there is a difference between not being well off and actual poverty. Technically, the family was poor though the 1970’s, BUT… that was US-middle (or almost middle) class ‘poor’ – or: all history could look on and be envious. As a kid, I had things or access to things Monarchs of old could only dare dream about – if they dared such crazy dreams at all!

      And one of the greatest riches was knowing family. That is, those in the family knew things. I wanted a telescope? Build one – Clyde Tombaugh did…. well… now, if THAT isn’t inspiring, what words might be?

      1. I suppose it depends on how you define poverty. Is one poor because you lack material goods even if you’ve rejected material wealth? Or is it like “losing health insurance” when the government no longer employs extortion to force you to have that?

        Rather than terming it a “vow of poverty” it might be more properly called a “renunciation of the material.”

        Maybe the person’s simply trying to avoid helots.

  2. A quick check shows that the population of Owsley County, Kentucky, has declined, but not by a great percentage. From 5,061 in 1970, it climbed to 5,730 in 1978, and has dropped to 4,461 in 2015. That’s about a 12% decrease, hardly enough to cause the closing of local stores. That is likely a function of doing business in the larger “shopping” towns, and that’s a function of mobility. But – and here’s the thing that a surprising number of people don’t grasp – if you want people to shop locally, you have to give them a reason to be there in the first place. In other words, jobs.

    I live in such an area. We’re not as bad off as places in Appalachia, and local churches go there to do mission work. But while there is a great deal of moaning about people not shopping local, there is resistance to bringing in new industries. I was invited to be a member of a development committee, and in that very first meeting only two of us pushed for ways to attract industries. The rest did not want it. Their excuse was property taxes, but I think it was more of a case of not being the big frog in the little pond anymore.

    I never went to another meeting. Neither did the other fellow who knew that if you want people to spend money locally, you’ve got to have them there in the first place.

    So it is what passes for our elected officials does more in trying to get government money than economic development, which would help everyone. The regional Democrat mouthpiece preaches the infernal gospel of higher taxes and doing away with everything that would attract industry (and bring in more people who could then pay taxes and allow official to live in the manner in which they’ve become accustomed).

    At this point, the only option for our local youth is to get out. Leave. Vamoose. Go where there are economic opportunities; go where the jobs are. That’s something that people don’t want to hear, but it’s happening, anyway.

    1. > The rest did not want it.

      I was uninvited from a panel on disabilities when I kept insisting on talking about cures and prosthetics instead of guilt and gimmees.

      None of them wanted to be whole; they just wanted their preferential seats in the Magic Bus.

          1. There was a woman I read about who blinded herself with chemicals, because ‘she identified as disabled.’ This is the absolute height of crazy for me, because so much of what I do needs sight. And it drives me absolutely mad that they get support and encouragement.

            1. What drives me mad is the people who’d give everything to keep their sight and are losing it. (I might be one of those in the next few years.) This type of thing is what my grandma would call “Slaps in the face of G-d.”

    2. I shop online more and more – even if the place has a local shop. Why? Because I’ve been to the local shop and what I desire isn’t there. Or it is, but if I can avoid the crowd & screaming tots (& soon, atrociously rotten covers of “Christmas” music) and need to get something not on the shelves anyway.. why NOT order the in-stock item to be shipped direct as well?

      1. Many years ago, I heard about a new book coming out from Steve Jackson Games, one that I very definitely wanted. So I called the local gaming store where I shopped, and asked if they could reserve a copy for me, and they said they could. Two weeks after I saw people online talking about having their copy, I called the store and asked about my order. They said they had never heard of me and had no copy of the book. After that I never placed another order through them.

        Conversely, my local comic store was both willing to take orders, and extremely reliable about fulfilling them. I was a very loyal customer, partly because they consistently treated me well. . . .

        1. Years ago when it still mattered to me, I went to comic shop A in a place about an hour away. And was ignored as everyone was, including the employees/clerks were paying attention to some RPG going on therein.

          I went to comic shop B about two hours away and was greeted, aided, and if it wasn’t the first visit, it was no later than the third that I had an account as such there and a list of things to be set aside. It should be plain which place got my custom.

      2. Some years ago, a boss who had bought into “tax online purchases to save brick and mortar,” had me research figures for how online sales cut into standard retail. This is on of those cases where I wish I had a copy of my research. I think I ended up looking at Commerce Department reports on PDF to get old data. The surprise was, at the time I did the research, online sales were right at the same percentage of retail sales as mail order sales in the past. Since all these brick and mortar businesses thrived under these conditions, the factor in local stores going out of business was not due to shopping on the Internet. I think I theorized that it was likely due to the rise of chain discount stores, but I don’t recall if I had hard data, or was just speculating.

        1. I think online purchases shouldn’t be exempt from taxation – equality under the law, and all. But they should be taxed based on their location, not the location of the buyer – just as if the buyer had traveled to their business and bought in person.
          It simplifies the taxation for the business, neutralizes the “unfair” claims of b&m, and the only people who have to really work hard at figuring out taxes are folks like Amazon, who ship to you from places ALL OVER creation (IOW, it lowers barriers to entry, rather than raising them).

    3. I keep wanting to tell our local development people that ‘Tourism ends. Often Hard.” We need light industry, or heavier industry that doesn’t require too much water. Something that will remain stable when ag and energy and tourism go down, or up.

      1. Since we are so advanced that we produce our own carpetbaggers and no longer have to import them, we had some come out of a big university regional development outfit and try to sell the idea of doing small towns up as tourist traps. What they never realized is that this only works if you have some sort of attraction people can see, and want to see, as they drive past. The local area had none, and this outfit didn’t suggest anything that tourists would want to see. More than that, the farther away you are from a major population center, the better that attraction has to be for folks to come to it.

        I did see one “downwind of the head shop” plan for ecotourism, but it was for a place far enough off the beaten path that I knew it wasn’t going to fly. Investors may have felt the same way, as it never came into being.

  3. > the jobs have moved overseas.

    The Fed has *forced* jobs overseas. Have you paid your $2,250 annual ITAR fee this year? Every year since 2008? No? You’re liable for a $500,000 fine and a prison term, then.

    Why should you pay some agency you never heard of $2,250 every year? Because they’ve defined “armamants” as “anything a military might use”, and all militaries have training manuals. Or they might sell your novels in their BX. Doesn’t matter, all books are the same anyway, if you pay instantly (via the Fed’s own EFT system, the only way they accept payment) they might not slap additional fines on you.

    Sound silly? They’re still moving slowly, surprising people who had *no idea* they were in the “arms” business…

  4. Doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to get a car’s eye view of northern Appalachia. Just drive down Interstate 81 through Pennsylvania or 79 through West Virginia, and get off every other exit and look around. Of course since those are the areas that Senator Clinton refers to as “fly over” country, and those of her ilk don’t concern themselves with the inhabitant’s needs beyond what they can get in votes conned out of them.

    I have to agree that many/most academic credentials are over-inflated. When 50% of a B.S. consists of stuff I learned in high school (or people should have learned there), and 50% of an MS consists of stuff learned at the Bachelor level, it becomes obvious that the purposes of college is to make the educators comfortably well off and indoctrinate young adults, not to actually teach people. I mean really, does it take 2 years and $20,000+ to add a PhD to your name when all they really require of you is some research, a halfway decently written thesis and its defense? (Okay, and maybe a heaping portion of butt-kissing to the powers that be.)

    Poverty and the U.S. version of the dole. I have an adopted brother who was a fetal alcohol and drug abuse baby. Lives in Alabana. Measured IQ of about 80. He’ll never be a master auto mechanic, but he does okay as a helper/assistant, which barely makes over minimum wage. Sure, he’s bright enough to do yard maintenance, but he will occasionally make safety mistakes, and is very prone to the “Here, hold my beer and watch this” syndrome. Point is, he draws full social security disability; which is supporting him, a couple of women, supposedly his kid with one of them. Nothing is going to lift him out of that. And while the American taxpayer is my brother’s keeper; he gets a vote and it’s invariably for Progressives unless he misreads the ballot. But the real kicker is, if he earns too much money doing reportable income, his SS goes poof, which disincentivizes him from doing anything that might risk that.

    Now take my wife’s cousin in Connecticut. Above average smarts, educated, late 50s, never married, bad back, fibermyalgia, chronic depression, and a feminist persecution complex that has to be seen to be beleived. 100% disability also. Not so much that she can’t work, as what she’s able to do, she has no interest in doing. i.e. she’s held down by the accumulation of little things, but really the only thing stopping her is what’s between her ears. And yes, I may be unfairly judging her since I haven’t walked a mile in her shoes.

    And we won’t even talk about another cousin’s husband who lost his database management job in an insurance company, couldn’t get rehired anywhere because he was certified, and basically gave up looking. Guess who supports him now?

    The system might not be broke, but it sure seems close to it.

    1. The examples you provide all point to the ways in which people are encouraged to stay dependent / discouraged from improving their circumstances. We might also add the Welfare Mom who doesn’t marry the “Baby Daddy(s)” of her kid(s) because the moment she does her government support evaporates.

      Government needs to take a good, hard look at the negative incentives its programs foster. One guy I know is on full disability (merited) who would like to work — and as he is a skilled model maker he could make some nice cash providing custom scale models for Hollywood — but cannot because as soon as he gets paid he becomes ineligible for his benefits even though he has not lined up another gig.

      In other cases I’ve learned of, one man eventually gave up trying to get work because as soon as he’d get hired his benefits would terminate but he wouldn’t qualify for employment benefits until several months on the job; add in the facts of an uneven economy and “Last In/First Out” policies along with the delays in getting back on “support” and you can see why he might be reluctant to take an “On The Books” job. Similarly, there is the instance of a girl on Welfare who scrimped and saved to fund a college education — only to be declared a Welfare Cheat for having money in the bank.

      Social policies need to take into account the problems posed by strict cut-offs and “Zero Asset” policies. Some degree of phase-out is appropriate, but it needs to be structured so that a dollar earned does not entail a dollar reduction in aid, much less two or more dollars reduction. One argument for a universal minimum income is that it avoids that, providing a stipend regardless of income but, aside from the costs entailed, we know there would be great hue and cry over “Millionaires receiving income they don’t need and didn’t earn!” — even though their taxes would surely go up far above the amount of their stipends.

      In the end the Poor will always be with us mainly because there are too many people making good livings farming poverty.

      1. All of those things are why gov’t cannot properly address poverty. Gov’t has to *either* work off solid rules, where everyone gets treated exactly the same, *or* they have to shift over to “each case is unique” – which is Rule By Man (as opposed to Rule Of Law).

        The only right way to deal with poverty is human-to-human. And, then, “each case is unique” is doable.

        1. Government cannot help the poor because there’s no such thing as “the poor.” There’s the working single mother who needs help watching her kids, the homeless guy who just needs a shower and a suit for an interview, the druggie who needs rehab and an attitude adjustment, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. For DC to try and design a program that can help all of those people and not just make them dependent plebeians is the height of hubris.

    2. In history it is nine years and over $20,000, at least as of twelve years ago. I got out in seven years and people thought I was insane. (Can’t argue the latter point, but not for the reason they think.)

      1. Was about the same for anthropology in that year range at (StateU) known for that degree. And about as worthless as an English degree, but not so bad as a philosophy degree, for job prospects.

        The skills that they *don’t* teach, like time management on a project subject to weather/season and local politics, grant writing, and how to deal with NAGPRA et. al. would be a lot more practical. That, plus common sense, were notably missing…

    3. “And we won’t even talk about another cousin’s husband who lost his database management job in an insurance company, couldn’t get rehired anywhere because he was certified, and basically gave up looking. Guess who supports him now?”

      Why should they hire him? He”s older, probably has medical conditions; far cheaper to swear they can’t find anyone with his skills (falsely) and fly in an H1B from Bangalore who will work cheaper and is easier to get rid of.

      And don’t tell me it doesn’t happen because I’ve seen it.

      1. Oh, yes. I’ve not given up – I still go after jobs that actually meet my skill set. But, despite several interviews, no such luck. Telephone interviews, I get through just fine, even though I am horrible at just talking – but it seems as soon as I show up physically, the prospect dies. I know that I’m not that plug-ugly; babies in stores don’t start crying in terror… Why I’m trying to switch over to writing for a living.

        1. Every time I look at the mess that’s the field, at least traditional, I decide it’s a great time to revive my translation business.
          But it’s been 30 years, I’d have to work hard at some of the languages, and frankly if I’m going to work that hard, I’m going to keep going on this road.
          I’ll just have to learn to do indie along with trad. It will happen.

  5. Environmentalists aren’t very popular around here. Between the spotted owl fiasco and wilderness firefighting policies, it’s understandable.

    1. Hit Post too soon: Logging/lumber/building products were the economic driver for our area: my own and several other counties in southern Oregon. Spotted owl fever got a lot of forest land cordoned off from production There are indications that the spotted owls are simply getting forced out by the better-adapted barred owls, but it’s gotta be those evil lumber companies. (Spotted owls seem happy nesting in K-mart signs, but those are endangered, too. I think they might like mummified bodies of environmentalists as nesting grounds. VBEG.) The housing bubble burst in 2008 finished off most of the building products jobs. Didn’t help that the owner of the biggest local company made some very short-sighted decisions. When he died, the only recourse was selling the company, thus moving a bunch of those jobs away.

      The ‘leave it alone and hope for the best’ wilderness fire policy means that trees that could have been used for lumber were turned into ashes. It’s particularly galling when salvage logging in a 2002 fire was blocked by the greenies. More so, when those same no-longer-salvagable trees fueled this summer’s huge fire.

      If you prevent people from working and rub their noses in it, you might get interesting results.

      1. The ‘leave it alone and hope for the best’ wilderness fire policy …

        … tends to encourage those who own timber and wish to profit from it (pay property taxes) to clear cut while they can, before third parties impose regulatory confiscation of the assets or enact policies which will increase likelihood of such destructive forces as fire, pests and diseases.

  6. ow take my wife’s cousin in Connecticut. Above average smarts, educated, late 50s, never married, bad back, fibermyalgia, chronic depression, and a feminist persecution complex that has to be seen to be beleived. 100% disability also. Not so much that she can’t work, as what she’s able to do, she has no interest in doing. i.e. she’s held down by the accumulation of little things, but really the only thing stopping her is what’s between her ears. And yes, I may be unfairly judging her since I haven’t walked a mile in her shoes.

    What’s between our ears stops many of us. It’s a combination of being unable to think outside the box in certain aspects of our lives, and convincing ourselves not to take risks. I speak from both hindsight, and what I recognize as a struggle to think outside the box in some areas now.

    What I can’t do is whine that anyone “held me back,” not when the issue is my own choices, both good and bad. What I don’t understand is how thinking outside the box come naturally in some areas, but not others. I know not everyone’s made the same, but, knowing that you routinely think outside of the box in some areas, why is it so hard to do so in others?

    All in all, it hasn’t been a bad life. I just see where I could have done better.

  7. … the crazed and increasingly futile environmental and other regulations – so the jobs have moved overseas.

    AKA: Exporting our pollution to nations where environmental regulation doesn’t exist.

  8. re the “Protestant work ethic”:

    The nominal opposite would be the assumption that said ethic applied only to the commons, and not to their “betters.” And the Black Death did bring it to a head, but the resentment had been simmering since the Vikings had gone out of business. Remember that charming little ditty:

    When Adam delved,
    And Eve span,
    Who, then, was
    The Gentleman?

    The Protestant work ethic basically said “As Paul said, ‘He who does not work, neither let him eat.’ And that also applies to knights and barons.”

    Unfortunately, it ended up getting applied to factory owners and investors as well. And thence it was a short walk td the Socialist Workers’ Paradise.

    1. It is always “a short walk to the Socialist Workers’ Paradise.” but the path never seems to get there.

      Perhaps, like one of Zeno’s riddles, it is because we always have half the distance still to go, or perhaps there is a mysterious warping of the way which always delivers its walkers to a different hell?

  9. The human condition is something that progs get totally wrong, EVERY DANG TIME. They assume neutral clay, moldable (with enough $, indoctrination, regulation) to perfection. Instead of the empirical (and theological, imo) truth that men are sinful and broken, right from the get-go. It’s a persistent problem in everything they believe.

    the lack of population density… this region is not a hell hole of gang shootings
    Well, you need more than two people to call it a “gang” and you need more than two gangs to have gangland warfare. So, yeah.

    1. The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it.

      He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

      — Adam Smith

  10. They wouldn’t know intelligent people if one bit them in the arse.

    Ox maybe not smart, but smart enough not bite anyone there. […] Alright, maybe, but(t) that something ox have fairly high standards about. And bite-ee would need to make plain it was a desired thing. Ox that smart, at least.

  11. Homeopathy worked at first, because it didn’t work.

    No, really. When most “treatment” actually made things worse, homeopathy, which did NOTHING, was better than Doing Something. Only when medicine advanced enough to be a net positive was homeopathy a net loss. Right now, from what we know about government and perhaps other BIG social interventions… the best things might be a social homeopathy. Doing nothing will at least do no great harm.

    Yes, local charity and such might make sense – but that’s neither government nor BIG Intervention. It’s personal. “Otis” is known and everyone knows he doesn’t need a Big Program… he just needs to sleep it off. And Sheriff Taylor knows the right prescription is simple bed rest, not a Washington D.C. directed Program.

    1. But, Ox, that doesn’t get us to the Perfect Society! It leaves us with people who suffer, and people who don’t get ahead. How can you deny that utopia to the people who need it most?!

      1. Nope. It doesn’t. But it avoid the horrifically awful ones.
        To make something Perfect… use half sweet and half dry vermouth.
        That’s all the Perfect anyone is apt to get, anyway.

      2. Anyone selling a Perfect Society is selling a Religion. If there is a Religion, make sure there is a Deity involved. Despite what at least one person once claimed, ox know ox NOT a Deity.

    2. I remember a long long ago episode of the Beverly Hillbillies featuring Granny’s guaranteed cold cure. Mr. Drysdale, unsatisfied with his doctor’s advice to “Get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and in a week to ten days you’ll be over it” resorts t Granny’s magical elixir, guaranteed to cure ANY cold! Just drink the elixir, get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and in a week to ten days the cold will be gone!

      1. I prefer homemade chicken soup (plenty of fluids and nutrients), plenty of rest, and in a week to 10 days I’ll be climbing the walls to get out of the house.

  12. I’m from Appalachia and was forced to learn local history in school, which has never been useful to me until this very moment. Most of the original inhabitants who stayed on purpose were trying to avoid other people, and especially the government, for both good and bad reasons. Current poverty is mostly a result of the declining profitability of coal and steel production. But that isn’t what drew the original, sparse population.

    Changing topics — your remarks about laziness are spot on. Cultures in geographic areas with a lot of easily obtained resources don’t advance quickly because they don’t have to; cultures in geographically challenging places have a lot of innovation. It’s innovate or die.

    1. So when do they sweep down from the mountains and subjugate the cities of the decadent urban people’s?

      1. Why would they want them?

        Just block the highways and railroads, wait for them all to starve, and pick through their belongings to see if anything is worth dragging home.

    2. I live in Appalachia as well; my area is hopping and people are pouring into it for the jobs here. Yes, there are some really poor sections of Appalachia – but like anything else, sweeping generalizations oversimplify what is happening and lump together everybody under one label.

      Many government programs have explicitly encouraged dependency and if you look you can find public references to “Combating Mountain Pride” in food stamps and other programs (hopefully changing with this administration, but it might be too far down the ladder to have changed yet).

      1. Here’s the frustrating thing we see: There’s always people who really need assistance, but who will not seek it. I can see trying to reach them. But what do you do about those who don’t really need assistance, and do put in for it? Yeah, I know: don’t give it to them. But how do you weed out the two? It can be harder than it looks.

  13. Sigh. I suppose I am among the lazies. Upheld by a military pension which pays the mortgage and then a utility or two, I could be doing much more work than I am at the moment, for the Tiny Bidness, and for my own books. Housekeeping, and the pets, and all. And sleeping in until Larry-the-Rooster wakes me at sixish…
    I should be chained to the computer, writing and writing…
    mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa…

  14. One of the reasons I keep coming back to this place (not far aside from present company, which is thankfully tolerable to a curmudgeonly introvert) is that things like this set their hooks in my attention. And the fact that most of what I would have said or thought has already been said (and probably thought, too).

    The problems of Appalachia aren’t that different from a lot of places in the world. If I could ask for anything, though, I’d steal a page from Frederick Douglas and tell all those well-intentioned busybodies to *stop helping.*

    Also, for our liberal friends out there, the land is not cheap, the area not picturesque, it’s hot as blazes in the summer and the air is greasy, mosquito thick soup. It’s purely awful, and you should probably just leave us to our misery. We deserve it, after all, we voted for Trump!

      1. Of course. Must keep us ‘orrible deplorables together. Can’t have us running about in those pristine blue cities’ Starbucks, what with our insistence on earning your keep, and keeping what you earn.

        As for hospitals, there are bigger ones (the kind that actually have a helipad, and more than two stories tall) around the larger towns. Asheville, Knoxeville, Roanoke, Atlanta. And even some of the smaller, spread out towns. They do end up getting plenty of practice on odd things (we rednecks do get up to strangeness), like the Aunt I have that loses blood by the pint every other month without cuts or punctures (we think there are vampire genes in there somewhere).

        But really, it’s an awful, terrible, no-good place that’s ‘orribly oogly, nasty, and full of rotten Trump voters. That smell. *chuckle*

        1. It should be noted that Asheville, proper, has a severe infestation of liberallus progressivisus enviromentallus but has been largely kept in check by surrounding communities where government is generally kept under tight control sufficient to deter politicians doing much more than flying in from Raleigh to cut a ribbon and then getting the hell out.

    1. Stop helping? Not let busybodies exercise their inner dictator, and intellectuals play god with their “But my way will work!”? Stop the massive flow of funds that can be appropriated off into charity salaries and “support” and “raising awareness” while lining the pockets of anyone but the declared intended recipient?

      That’s so crazy it just might work!

      Next up, you’ll tell me you side with Kim Du Toit’s “Let Africa Sink”!

      1. Foreign aid can become a perverse dis-incentive to development.
        Why maintain something if some foreign government is probably going to build you a new one? Especially if the more worn out and dilapidated things get, the more likely some foreign organization is going to build you a new one.

      2. Stop the massive flow of funds that can be appropriated off into charity salaries and “support” and “raising awareness”
        This is one of the best arguments against gov’t charity. If you see inefficiency and misdirected funds, you can’t stop supporting it. A private charity, otoh, you can stop sending checks, and give your money (and time and talents) elsewhere. IOW, you can actually hold people accountable.

      3. Somewhere in the archives — it might come up if you search Africa — there’s a post I made which centered on an article written by a young economist from an African country, saying the same.
        I know they howl about colonialism, but the worst our colonialism did was infect all their bright young man with Marx and destroy their economy with our “charity.”
        In future history books this will be viewed as our horrible treatment of them: giving them things that don’t allow them to rise so we can feel good about ourselves. Oh, and corrupting the minds of their most promising people.
        Leave poor f*cked up Africa alone to unf*ck itself. It might just surprise you.

        1. It is appalling to consider that an African student at a contemporary American University would receive a more Marxist education than one attending Patrice Lumumba University in the Sixties.

  15. Completely off-topic, but I’m still working my way through the SF magazines at I’ve been downloading the OCR text of various short stories and books and comparing them to the novels. As I mentioned earlier, the magazine version of “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” is longer than the novel, even though the magazine version is raw ASCII text vs. formatted for the novel. It turns out the serials for Zelazny’s last three Amber books – Sign of the Unicorn, Hand of Oberon, and The Courts of Chaos – are *also* longer than the novels.

    Which I just finished re-reading last week… those books have been favorites of mine since they came out – and I had to wait for him to write the last two – but I’m Zelazny’d out at the moment, or I’d dive in and see if I could spot the additional text.

    Unfortunately I don’t have any tools that can compare the files unless they’re in the same format, and the OCR text is too grotty to be practical for me to proofread and reformat.

    I’ve also found that the serial versions of Eric Frank Russell’s “Sinister Barrier” and Frank Herbert’s “Destination: Void” (which was serialized as “Do I Wake Or Do I Dream”) are *much* shorter than the novels, and given that there were the original and “revised” versions for the novels, that’s three different versions of the same story…

    BTW, Herbert’s “The Dosadi Experiment” serial looks to be 25-30% longer than the book; I’m tempted to download the page image .pdf to my tablet and squint at the low-resolution can of poorly-printed text, just to see if the serial version makes sense. Because the book never did make coherent sense, besides being in a totally different style from the other BuSab stories. Maybe over-zealous editing-to-length hosed the story…

    I’ve also noticed that the quality of stories in all of the SF magazines nose-dived betwen 1971-1973 or so, and few of the writers of the 1960s are to be found in the later magazines. “Humanity sucks” and environmental disaster plots seemed to be what the magazines were looking for…

    The archives are YUUUUGE, but I’ve found a couple of Keith Laumer and Jack Vance stories I’d never seen before, and for me, that’s like Sarah finding a new Heinlein.

    1. There was a letter to the editor in one of those Worlds of IF issues, where the letter writer complained that their stories contained too much fun and adventure, unlike the earlier “message fiction” of the 1950’s.

  16. I noticed that the “Letters to the Editor” sections in most of those magazines often looked like a cross between Scalzi’s blog and YouTube comments. It would be interesting to know if it was a representative sample of the letters they received, or just the ones the editors felt like printing…

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