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Roadblocks, mental and otherwise

The essay on homelessness is taking longer than I thought it would.  Part of the problem is that I use a program called Free Mind to write essays that aren’t my usual stream of consciousness crap.  It works really well for me, partly because there are some keyboard shortcuts that allow me to move from point to point on the diagram without having to reach for the mouse.  It speeds things up a lot.  Recently, the Head Rat bought me a compact, lighted keyboard.  It is one of those things that I take a certain amount of geeky pleasure in, what with the glowing blue keyboard in a darkened room and all. Unfortunately, the key for inserting a new “child” branch in the diagram is the “insert” key, which the geekfest keyboard doesn’t have for some reason.  It was really distracting; so much so that I finally re-installed my old keyboard tonight.

The second roadblock is that part of the essay is a story about a homeless guy I know.  The problem is that I am part of the story, and I’m having a bit of trouble (as Bob Seger would say) with “what to leave in and what to leave out.”  Telling the story accurately without giving out details I’m not comfortable publishing is proving to be an interesting exercise.  And, let’s face it:  I am susceptible to the tendency to paint myself in as good a light as possible (which at some points in the story isn’t all that good).  But, as someone in a Science Fiction movie once said, “Being aware of the trap is the first step in avoiding the trap.”

In some respects, this is turning into one of those “warts and all” kinds of things.  I think I decided to write it after seeing another one of those pieces in the newspaper where they tell you all about the homeless problem after doing a vignette of a homeless person who just tugs at your heartstrings.  Conveniently, they don’t ever bother to establish whether or not the individual is even remotely typical of homeless people or whether or not his situation and what it would take to remedy his situation is representative of the situation in general.  They also tend to leave out any negative information about the individual that might interfere with the agenda they are pushing.

All I can say is that I am acutely aware of the danger of designing public policy on the basis of anecdotal evidence, I make no claims that the story I’m telling is representative of anything (although I do have some other data that is), and that I am not hampered by a desire to sugar-coat anything.

I’m also not hampered by a belief in entitlement.  I don’t believe that any of us are entitled to anything material.  Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness?  You bet.  3 square meals a day and a roof over our heads?  No.

Don’t get me wrong; hunger and homelessness are bad things, and I believe as individuals we are morally responsible to help.  The problem is that far too often when activists start talking about people deserve this or that, they sound like they believe we all have a God-given right to whatever it is they are lobbying for.  Unfortunately, they don’t mean that at all.  What they really mean is that we all have a Government-given right to whatever it is they are lobbying for, or at least in their eyes, we should.  In other words, we are all entitled to X, whatever they think X is.

I don’t buy that.  Anytime I hear someone talking about how people “deserve” this or that, I just wait for the part where they insist that Government should supply it.  Which means that they want to take money from me to fund a program to supply X to anyone who needs it. 

When I was a kid, during the tail end of the Viet Nam War, my father went to Summer School at Kansas State for two summers.  For those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with the geography of Kansas, K-State is in Manhattan, Kansas, which is near Junction City, which is next to Fort Riley, home of the 1st Infantry.  Consequently, being near an Army Base, Junction City had a thriving pawn shop industry.  At the time, those pawn shops were chock-full of electronics picked up by soldiers in Asia and pawned when they were back in the states.  Dad used to spend weekends when we couldn’t make it up to Manhattan prowling the pawn shops looking for cameras and such. 

One of the things he picked up was a radio that received AM, FM and I think it was 6 short wave bands.  I used to spend hours listening to broadcasts from all over the world.  One of the things that made the biggest impression on me was the English language broadcast from the Cuban government.  The broadcasts were all about what a utopia Cuba was, and they spent a lot of time talking about the rights guaranteed under the Cuban constitution.  If I remember it correctly, among the things guaranteed were free medical care, the right to work and the right to a place to live.  The claims of Michael Moore and his ilk notwithstanding, I don’t think guaranteeing that stuff worked out all that well for the Cubans.

There’s not really much of a point here, except that as cold as it may sound, I don’t think anyone is entitled to anything material.  Perhaps we deserve rewards in Heaven or punishments in Hell for what we do here on earth, but down here, I don’t believe we are entitled to certain “stuff” just because a particular sperm and an particular egg happened to get together once upon a time.  Entitled to the opportunity to earn that “stuff” for ourselves?  Yes.  Entitled to have someone else provide us with that “stuff” just because we happen to be breathing?  No.  Morally obligated on an individual level to help those around us who for one reason or another can’t get the basic “stuff”?  Absolutely.  Entitled to abdicate fulfillment of that moral obligation to the government in exchange for a little more tax money?  Hell no.

In my mind, expecting the government to fulfill our moral obligations (aside from being a sort of absurdist version of “fox in the henhouse”) is like buying indulgences.  We don’t have to worry about our sins of omission towards our fellow man if we pay the money.

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