Why am I being blamed during a vulnerable time in my life?
The question was asked, “I feel no sympathy for the homeless because I feel like it is their own fault. Are there examples of seemingly ‘normal’ and respectable people becoming homeless?” In response to this question is my response that I believe also answers, “Why am I being blamed during a vulnerable time in my life?”
To answer your question there are people you might call “normal” who are homeless or are becoming homeless…
To quote a recent article:
Last spring, Bhairavi Desai, a middle-aged woman without a driver’s license and thus an unlikely leader for thousands of mostly male drivers in the world’s largest market for hired vehicles, delivered emotional testimony in front of New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission about the mounting existential difficulties in her field.
The executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Ms. Desai had been a labor activist for 21 years but she had never seen anything like the despair she was witnessing now — the bankruptcies, foreclosures and eviction notices plaguing drivers who were calling her with questions about how to navigate homelessness and paralyzing depression.
“Half my heart is just crushed,’’ she said, “and the other half is on fire.”
A lot of tech companies are doing what they call disruptive technology. These “disrupt” entire industries. And investors are investing in them.
What we see is an advancement where one robot does the work of 100 men. While this is great for a business in that they can save money the 100 men put out of work are then left without income. And in this case we say 100 are affected but technologies reach is global and can affect billions.
They can’t always find a new job that pays what they were making or that pays what it costs for basic needs. What happens when you make $400 and rent costs $800? It does not cover rent and you face eviction.
This ratio of income to the cost of basic needs is called the Income to Basics ratio or IB. If you are paid 10 credits a month and rent costs 20 credits then your IB ratio is 1 to 2 or 1:2. You make half of what the rentier is asking. So merely not being paid enough or having extremely high rent (cost of living) cause poverty. Not having steady work causes poverty. Thus if you can’t afford rent and can’t find another source of income you are at risk to become homeless.
Without a home everything becomes much more difficult. Where do you go to protect from the elements or plunder, where do you store food, where do you shower, where do you charge your phone? All of sudden your job, if you have it still, and some do, is at risk. Your work and living is precarious. A tight rope balancing act from one rope to another. That is the gig economy.
“But some places have lower cost of living! Why don’t you move?” People can’t always move somewhere else. Cost of moving is $3000-$6000. First months rent, deposit, moving vehicles, gas, food, it all adds up. Most people can’t afford a $400 emergency. Plus you have to find work, school, transportation and so on at that new location. It is not always possible and it doesn’t always solve the problem of poverty wages or high rental costs. More details here.
It’s not surprising you don’t feel sympathy for the homeless (and yet feel sympathy for starving children in Africa).
In TV and movies the homeless are often displayed as mentally ill or drug addicts but we know that’s not true. In the past, and especially during the great depression, films and TV displayed the homelessness differently. Research the Great Depression. They called difficult times in life hardship.
But in some studies half of the chronic homeless and those in prison have a form of mental illness. They had a condition they were born with or a chemical imbalance that made life more difficult to deal with than on average.
For the percentage of homeless that deal with mental illness you can thank Reagan for that. He closed the mental institutions that used to take them in. What happened was that those vulnerable people who were in institutions were forced out onto the streets ending up homeless or in and out of jail.
But the stereotypes about the homeless and poor didn’t sprout up from no where.
There is a economic concept in western countries call Neoliberalism that says that the amount of money you make or have determines if you are successful.
If your balance is high then you are successful and you deserve it and if your balance is low you are not successful and you deserve it. It ignores socioeconomic conditions (ignores empirical evidence) and is rooted in survivorship bias.
There’s another policy that has proliferated in western countries called Libertarian Paternalism. It says that those who are in poverty are there because they are not motivated. It says that the poor should blame themselves. Like neoliberalism it also ignores socioeconomic conditions and lacks empirical evidence.
There’s another idea out there called the Just World hypothesis. The idea is that the world is just and if someone is successful it is because they did something to deserve it and if someone is poor or homeless it is because they must’ve done something to deserve it because, “Bad things don’t happen to good people”. Sounds really scientific there. Sound familiar? It also ignores socioeconomic conditions.
There’s another idea out there many people believe called the Prosperity Gospel. It says that if you have money you are blessed (and deserve it). The antithesis of this is that if you are poor that you are not blessed (and thus deserve it).
If you aren’t blessed, and poor because of it, then you must deserve it. Or that there must be sin in your life or you don’t have enough faith. It says, “If you are poor (not blessed) it is your own fault”. Sound familiar?
“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” — old adage (possibly coined by Albert Einstein)
The aforementioned idea and ideas like it say, “It’s the fishes fault he can’t climb a tree.” It puts the blame on the person. How ridiculous. It’s not the fishes fault.
Libertarian Paternalism takes that further and says, “When the fish climbs the tree then he can have access to social welfare programs.” How insane is that? First it blames people for skills they don’t have or conditions out of their control and then requires those same skills to access resources necessary to survive! These people didn’t create these social programs. These are the welfare programs that your grandparents fought to ensure everyone would be able to survive during the good times and difficult times!
But wait there’s more! Do you know the secret? The Law of Attraction is the idea that you attract into your life good things basically by thinking about them and envisioning them.
It works! Think about an ice cream cone. Keep thinking about it all day. Think about it on really hot days. Eventually, you may find in your possession an ice cream. AMAZING! The law of attraction works! Miracle upon miracle!
Now try it with something grander. Think about a specific model of car you like. Now save up for that car. Go to the dealer and sign the paperwork. Now, one month later you have a new car! Amazing! How does this magic work?!?
While Positive Thinking and Law of Attraction is maybe better than some lines of thinking what it says is, “If you attract things into your life then that means you control what happens in your life and so if you control what happens in your life that must mean that if calamity happens then it is your fault.” Sound familiar? It also ignores socioeconomic conditions.
In personality psychology, locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they have control over the outcome of events in their lives, as opposed to external forces beyond their control. — Wikipedia
And what if you and someone else are attracting the same thing? Who wins? Let’s say you are at an auction and that thing you and someone else want is a painting, then does attraction win the auction or the person who has the ability to bid the highest amount?
What might be important to mention is that many times in English we leave out a lot of the qualifiers. So let’s take the statement above and add qualifiers to it, “If the law of attraction is true then that means I attract everything into my life and then that also means I control everything that happens in my life and so that must mean if calamity happens then it is all my fault.” How ridiculous.
Sobering thought: Think of the women stuck in abusive relationships. How often have they heard, “This is your fault”?
We have all heard of Victim Blaming. That is the phenomena that after a person or a group of people is victimized, they tell someone, usually someone who is supposed to show care, and instead of an rational response they are held responsible for it.
If this has happened to you it can be hurtful. You put your trust into someone and in a time of need you were not able to find comfort and healing or assurance of support.
The ideas listed above are a type of Victim Blaming.
This isn’t new.
A few thousand years ago, as the story goes, a man named Job was intentionally afflicted by God. A storm destroyed his house, his family and he was robbed of what he had left. When his friends came around and saw the destruction they were devastated. They ripped their clothes and threw ashes on their heads. Note that their response was empathy.
But after a while they started blaming Job for it. To paraphrase, they said to him, “Job, why are you suffering? We’ve ripped our new clothes we just bought and prayed for 3 days for you yet you’re still suffering. Since things aren’t better for you then it must be that you have sin in your life. You must have done something to cause this. Why don’t you ask forgiveness so everything will go back to normal? This is your fault Job.” Sound familiar?
Basically, when they didn’t understand how something like this could happen, they said it was his fault.
When someone sees something that conflicts with their world view it’s called cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. The occurrence of cognitive dissonance …occurs when confronted with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideals, and values
Some people are able to interpret the world around them and integrate that information easily. With others, sometimes even people we may know personally, (Brendina I’m looking at you), new information conflicts with their world view. It’s uncomfortable for them. Instead of dealing with it or inquiring they double down on what they already believe. It’s called confirmation bias.
Anyway, as the story goes (spoilers) Job was found blameless. Nothing he did caused his suffering.
In the story, God told Jobs friends that Job didn’t do anything wrong but that Job was being tested.
A lesson we can learn from the story is that when people don’t understand how something like this happens, there is a tendency to blame that person.
It’s the same the whole world over it’s the poor wots get the blame…
They don’t understand that here could be other reasons things happen to people…
The world has changed more drastically in the last hundred years than throughout all of known history. We all know this. We see new technology announced almost daily but we act like the world will continue to work the same as it did yesterday.
Now, more than ever, a globally connected world means change is happening on a regular basis throughout the world. The results of this is billions of people are working for a fraction of the normal rates.
For example, for every job that pays $10 an hour in the US there are 6 people who will do the same work for .20 cents around the world. You can verify these prices on sites like Upwork and Fiver or through many of the outsourcing services. This, in part, saturates the job market causing stagnant and poverty wages. You can’t dig yourself out of poverty, not having enough, if you are at poverty wages. This results people having no social mobility.
Social mobility is the movement of individuals, families, households, or other categories of people within or between social strata in a society. It is a change in social status relative to one’s current social location within a given society. — Wikipedia
Automation and technology is affecting billions of people and jobs around the world. How does this affect society?
The most common job in the US is transportation. Right now every major auto maker is working on self driving cars and trucks. They are on the road now. Transportation is the back up job. That’s being replaced and will displace millions of drivers just as Uber has displaced and reduced the work of 100k of taxi drivers.
With the loss and sale of the commons, the public areas people used to go to for food and shelter when they didn’t have work, and with the repeal of the Subsistence Acts and Land Grants, a person without an income is vulnerable to hunger, starvation, poverty and homelessness. They are vulnerable to plunder. We are seeing eviction rates of 4 per minute in the US.
When someone has lost their job, or can’t find work, or does have a job but at poverty wages, or becomes sick and can’t work, or when things plain just don’t go right what they need is compassion and empathy.
If it’s hard to know what others feel then ask them. And if you can’t, an easy way to get an idea is to imagine that you were them for a minute. Don’t put yourself in their shoes put yourself in their experience.
If it was you in their shoes you may easily be able to get out of it because of your network, your family, your abilities, your knowledge and your health. They might not have any of that. They may not have a network, education, experience, health or the skills that the job market needs.
Being poor and homeless is awful. People don’t choose to be there. Something in this vast sea of life didn’t work out and they fell overboard.
If they had what you have they would not be there obviously.
What you would do in that situation is different than what you would do if you were that person.
Imagine if you were suffering on the streets, cold and hungry, and then you walked by.
A good read on this is in Why do poor people deserve welfare benefits?
The old systems don’t work anymore. They weren’t designed to support a global economy with advanced automation and AI.
Remember those toys where you put the circular toy in the circular slot and the square shaped toy in the square shaped slot and so on? Our society is made up of many different shapes but the job market only has a fixed number of slots and automation is removing those slots one by one.
If someone comes to you for help and you don’t know what to do then listen. If you have no answer for them apologize.
I’m sorry this happened to you. I don’t know what to say but I’ll support you or learn more about how we got here.
Some things we experience in life we’re prepared for and know how to handle them and we are able to move on. Other experiences may be foreign to us and we may need others to get through it. Scientific literacy helps cope with tragedy and understanding the world around you.
I’ve recently heard the statement, “No one gets through life on their own. We need each other to survive.” If that’s true we should be more compassionate and reserve judgement.
“Non nobis solum nati sumus” — Cicero
It means, “Not for us alone are we born”.