Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Exception and The Rule. Why You And I Can't Seem To Agree On What's Right In Front Of Us

You're caring and intelligent. I'm caring and intelligent. Yet, you typically vote Republican, and I typically vote Democrat. Why is that?

I think a significant part of what explains this is how we weigh the evidence around us. Consider these two different takes on poverty.

First, you've go Paul Ryan's statements. The juicy part being:

If you’re driving from the suburb to the sports arena downtown by these blighted neighborhoods, you can’t just say: I’m paying my taxes, government’s going to fix that. You need to get involved. You need to get involved yourself – whether through a good mentor program or some religious charity, whatever it is, to make a difference, and that’s how we help resuscitate our culture.

And then you've got this recent Washington Post story about one family's unexpected descent into poverty:

In just two months, we’d gone from making a combined $120,000 a year to making just $25,000 and leeching out funds to a mortgage we couldn’t afford. Our savings dwindled, then disappeared.

So I did what I had to do. I signed up for Medicaid and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

So which is it: is poverty an issue where poor people simply don't know the value and joy of working (hence the need for mentoring to teach them). Or, is it the result of some unfortunate circumstances that could happen to almost any of us. Is poverty a multi-generational issue, or a temporary condition?

The answer is yes.

And that's where I think the Exception and The Rule comes into place. You and I can see the same circumstance, and ultimately interpret it differently because we have a different sense of what the exceptional case is, and what the rule may be.

Personally, I find Paul Ryan's comments pretty atrocious. I can almost hear him telling his children, "see all those poor people, they just don't know *how* to work. When you get older, it'll be your job to teach them." And while I'm willing to acknowledge that what he's saying absolutely has truth to it, it's what I would note as The Exception. The Rule, for me, is that most people have no interest in living on welfare and are working hard to find a way out of that life. Can you find people who deviate from this? Of course, but I chalk them up to a minority.

Meanwhile, others could look at the Washington Post story and easily see that as the Exception. Congratulations, you might tell me, you found someone who had horrendously bad luck and who got pushed into the system against their will. But, they'd assure me, that's just a minority of individuals. The vast majority of people, The Rule if you will, are moochers just too lazy or incompetent to get a job.

So how do we combat this reasoning that allows each of us to dismiss evidence as being interesting, but not particularly relevant. I don't know. That will have to be the subject for another blog post, another day.


  1. Address it with heart and solve it with mind.

    Reversing the order results in failure.

  2. David4:43 PM

    As someone struck deeply by the Post story, I would point out that it represents how the system worked. Sure she was "bailed-out" by the taxpayers, but it's done so that she can get back on her feet and then give back to the community (taxes, etc.) in the future. Isn't that why we create societies in the first place? We all need each other, just in different ways. Sure, I don't need food stamps, but I do want schools for my children. And if you don't have children, but pay taxes for the schools, perhaps you like how the parks are funded or the police exist. Though, as we have discussed before, I do think your "exception to the rule" point plays both ways.

  3. @Grant - so pithy, I love it! Now how to turn that into an executable plan...

    @David - Exactly!