Sociology

Debtor’s Prison?

I had no idea that debtor’s prison still existed! It always struck me as counter-productive. A strategic pound of flesh, as it were, appropriate when a creditor has crossed over from caring about collecting to caring mainly about punishing in retaliation for what may never be collected. Can you imagine if we still had that in all states and for debts of all kinds? It might be worse than the ridiculous overstuffing of prisons via the drug war.

That aside, the big issue here is the lack of representation, which is so blatently wrong it’s amazing it’s taken this long to show up before the Supremes.

On the plus side, each year the deadbeat spends in prison is a year of supporting himself he doesn’t have to do, so in that sense he benefits…

(I really need to add some categories if I am going to post regularly.)

It’s About Trust

Via Glenn Reynolds, an interesting look at what we think of adultery in politicians, and in general, given the Mark Sanford political suicide.

I’d never really thought about it, but it makes sense that we elect people based on integrity and commitment – heck, willingness to do more than pay lip service to both law and norms – to one degree or another. If you are flagrant before the fact, that’s probably it for you, when it’s a marriage.

It doesn’t even matter whether you and your spouse are differently normed and have a relationship you might consider more open than others, or if your marriage has alteady undergone zombification. Public perception is everything.

It may be old-fashioned, but there it is.

After the fact? Then it’ll look bad, as with Clinton, but performance matters and, frankly, perception of your spouse and relationship matter as well. If yours is widely perceived as a marriage of power and convenience, the sting might be less. And even so, look at the frenzy over Monica.

It may not be right, but it’s reality. Speaking of which, Republicans need to tout less morality and more reality, if they are to have a chance.

Gloucester Girls

By now, you’ve probably heard about the 17 pregnancies at the high school in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where apparently a bunch of girls decided it would be cool to get pregnant together and raise their babies concurrently.

My thoughts are perhaps a bit different from some expressed out there. I do agree that it’s nuts to maintain an “if only they had easy access to birth control” refrain in the face of intent. Also, they clearly knew how pregnancy happens, so it’s not a problem of education.

It is, frankly, nuts to expect sexually mature beings not to want to exercise that imperative. Just because we lock away young people who might once have been productive, even married, at least learning how it is to be adults, as if they are icky, that doesn’t make them any less old than people the same age would have been 5000 years ago.

Since birth control exists, it’s stupid to make any effort to keep it from them, tell them they shouldn’t use it, and so forth. So far, so good.

The desire to become pregnant is a powerful thing. It makes any desire to have sex even more powerful, but might strip away selectivity. Why not a 24 year old homeless guy? Sperm without the attachment, and who could blame the dude? Just because there’s an arbitrary norm turned law that says a 24 year old shalt not fuck a 16 year old no matter how persuasive, willing, and equipped for the task, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen or they’re not going to consider him a better option than high school boys. That part simply doesn’t bother me.

What bothers me is that the girls had no clear idea of the reality of what they were getting into. Yes, people should help each other when it comes to the raising of and providing for children, as necessary. There’s some question as to whether the support should be so strong and obvious as to encourage profligate parentage in the face of alternatives.

The same locking away of youth who were once members of adult society has too often gone hand in hand with insulating young people from knowledge and understanding of what it takes to be responsible, to function as an adult. It’s as if earning of money and raising of children happens by magic. We shouldn’t deliver kids to their 18th birthday and then expect they have a grasp on how to make and handle money, how it might change their lives to have kids at the wrong time, and so forth.

That is basically what happened to me. The monetary lessons I picked up were unintended and not necessarily good, but mostly it was all opaque.

As far as sex, I was obsessed by it from my earliest memories, even if I didn’t know what exactly I was obsessed with, apart from girls and the fact they were different. I had two deterrents. One was an overwhelming sense of guilt and secrecy instilled by family, and we weren’t even Baptists. Another was being stricken by shyness and being convinced, not without help, that no girl could possibly be interested in me, or in sex, no matter how much evidence existed to the contrary.

I’d have been a good donor for the Gloucester Girls, in my day, as I am obviously as fertile as it gets. I was joking about how well my kids turned out and being a donor with friends of mine recently, when one of them, getting divorced, talked about wanting more kids.

It’s probably a Really Good Thing that I got scared and depressed and obtused out of sex as a teen, because otherwise I’d easily have grandchildren by now. But then, I was born when my grandmother was 45, around the middle of the slew of grandkids she would acquire.

I just wish the dissuading had been done another way. Like not letting me learn about money and economics and stuff entirely on my own, and not making it look like kids just sort of raise themselves. There was the example of my brother, and that did have an impact, but even so.

This probably didn’t come out as coherent as I’d like, or clearly make the point that seems so obvious in my mind. I fully expect my kids to do as they will when they are teenagers, but I fully expect them to know the risks and responsibilities and let that guide them into taking it more slowly and cautiously than might be in an informational and parental vacuum.

Zoo Humans

Seeing the news of the uncontacted Amazon tribe, and the fact that there are both more of them than I might have imagined had I even considered the possibility of it being non-zero, and that lack of contact is carefully maintained, that gave me pause.

In short: Why?

Why hide from them the current nature of the world and level of civilization, and presumed benefits thereof? Why treat them, if effect, as remote zoo animals, or subhumans not worthy of joining the rest of us?

Arguments could be made the other way, and I might even buy them. It just struck me as a conceited “we know what’s best for your little minds and your little lives” attitude. And if that’s what we’re doing, making an intentional overflight feels like taunting.

Perhaps they’re quite happy, content not knowing better. Perhaps we’d all be. Perhaps some of what bothers me is a commonality with the atavistic death cult pastoralism of the environmentalist fringe. Perhaps many of us imagine a simple life as superior, shades of the desire for the comet to hit and free us from modernity explored in Lucifer’s Hammer.

Most of all, I am fascinated that these people even exist. The pristine primatives, not the modern freaks who want us all to go backward… with them at the top of the hierarchy they would impose.

Food for thought.

Everything is class, even if class isn’t everything.

Via this week’s Carnival of the Capitalists, an article on professionalism for salespeople that talks about why folks don’t think of sales as a profession. He touches on something that’s dreadfully important, which is that the respectability of a given line of work depends heavily on class perception. You can make damned good money selling things, but I think you’re supposed to feel just a bit dirty for having done so, rather than being able to enjoy the fruits of your labor the way that you could if you had, say, invested an amount of money that produced the same income.

Everything is class warfare. Everything.

The atheists aren’t the problem. Hell, they’re not even *a* problem.

Via J-Walk, an interesting take on the godless among us. As one of said godless, I really appreciate any article that fails to demonize (I’m supposed to resist?) folks like me. Nice change of pace. Being an atheist might not make you a better person, but it sure as hell doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be a worse one. Why that even needs to be said is something I’ll never understand.

Another lovely quirk some folks seem to have…

Is a belief in time machines. I’m all for personal responsibility, but there’s a difference between wanting folks to have to work forward in their lives from a bad spot with minimal or no government hand-holding (a thing which is getting more and more impossible the more we depend on the government for basic services) and wanting them to go back ten years and undo their lives. The second, being impossible, is just a nasty and spiteful thing to suggest.

We all make bad choices. Some of them work out anyway, some of them don’t. I have no problem with someone saying (to use an example that came up a decade or so ago in Minnesota), I don’t want to pay for your education just because you’re a single mother, as there’s a rational argument to be made about whether anyone should be paying for anyone else’s anything, and another to be made about the acceptable rationales therefore. What I object to is the more and more common formulation, well, then, you shouldn’t have had a kid, which not only contains a barrel of bad or possibly assumptions (how do we know she wasn’t widowed?), but shames the target based on them. I find this especially sad because why a person might find themselves in a bad situation has no bearing on whether they should be publicly funded in escaping it, but we enjoy the idea that we can punish the sluts and glorify the widows somehow through artful government, and that’s not at all what government is for.

We’re barely more than a century removed from the year an entire town in South Dakota nearly starved to death.

Giggle at me if you will for referencing Laura Ingalls Wilder, but really? This is important.

History is taught as though those members of the human race who came before us are somehow less than human. We sit here and sneer at the past as though it were populated by particularly bright hairless monkeys rather than full-fledged members of the human race. This makes it very difficult to understand history: if you start with the assumption, conscious or not, that all of those people nearly starved because they were stupid, you’re not going to be able to get much perspective on the thing. History looks simple and inevitable because it already happened. That doesn’t make the people starring in it any less people.

A similar misperception seem to happen when people look across economic classes. I’ve long said that a lot of folks attribute to their own brilliance what can better be explained by pure luck, and that attitude is becoming more and more pronounced the more the current state of the economy gets discussed. For a certain class of pundit, everyone who has run into trouble in all of this deserves it, and the slow-motion trainwreck is the best show in years, because it never occurs to said class of pundit that life may come after them next. They’ve done the same things, but having gotten away with it so far, they assume immunity, because they assume, naturally, that the others–being other–must have done something wrong. If everyone were as smart as they are, the world would be a perfect place.

The thing is that all of the smarts in the world aren’t going to save you when the trains don’t run. And right now? The trains aren’t running. Folks have built their lives around a set of assumptions that turned out to be bad. It’s not the first time it’s happened, and it won’t be the last.

The truly depressing thing about this is that the masses who are in trouble did exactly what those same pundit classes (and the government, and the rest of the media, and their teachers, and…) told them to do. You can’t get anywhere without a college degree, they say, and children need a backyard. The government pushes home ownership, so it must really be important, right? And we all go and get college degrees we can’t afford, because the only way we’ll be able to afford them is to get them, and we get credit cards because you can’t do half the things you need to do without one anymore (which is a post of its own, for sure) and because without the proven credit record we’ll never be able to afford a house, and then we buy houses that we really can’t afford because that’s what people do, dammit, and you want to appear as though you’re living at the class level above yourself, not the one below. And if you’re even tempted to examine your motives this closely and realize why it is that you want what the Joneses have, Oprah is standing there to tell you that positive thinking is what ensures your success, and the rest of the media join in with a chorus of fake-it-til-you-make-it, babe.

Until you don’t make it, when suddenly you find yourself characterized as the worst sort of pond-scum lowlife, too stupid to add and subtract, too corrupt to care that you’re thieving from your betters. You have children in the schools and you don’t even own a house! (Never mind that there’s not a landlord on the planet who doesn’t factor taxes into the cost of rent. You don’t own a house! Never mind that very few people below retirement age actually own their houses, and never mind that ownership is illusory, anyway. You don’t own a house!)

You can’t win. You’re an idiot if you don’t listen, and you’re an idiot if you do (at least if things go badly).

The thing is that I don’t expect that people can do much other than listen. Firstly, I don’t know where folks are supposed to find the time in their days to think about whether or not they’ve been set up by a de-facto ruling class that will rip them off and then excoriate them for allowing it to happen (all, mind you, while promoting the rip-off as the only way to avoid being ripped off). Secondly, have you ever tried to buck a trend? It requires a massive effort of will. People are programmed to follow along with whatever they’re hearing at highest volume, and I suspect the extent to which folks are able to hold distinctly odd views generally has more to do with their individual definition of “highest volume” rather than any substantial ability to truly resist the opinions of others. (Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but remember that this natural tendency–does anyone want to be separated from the tribe in the wilds at night?–is specifically encouraged in our children in the schools, making it that much harder to escape it. When you’re given bad information, then taught to try not to reason about it, then given faulty skills for doing the reasoning if you just can’t resist…well, it’s damned difficult to overcome that, no matter how smart you are.)

So you take people who just want to get along and live lives that don’t look too much different from that of their neighbors, you tell them that they’re failures in life if they don’t do A, B, and C, you build industries to sell them these things at ridiculous interest rates, you tell them that if they don’t make use of those industries they are, again, doing something wrong, and then–having set them up to fail–you tear into them when they actually do. Nice work, if you can get it.

We tell people that they’re stupid if they don’t go along with this, then tell that that they’re stupid because they did. There is absolutely no way to win this game. And that’s why even if my family weren’t in a bad financial position at the moment, we’d be getting off the everloving treadmill at the first possible moment. I suspect we’re not alone, and I suspect that it’s going to be very interesting to watch the shape things take if enough of us say, “Enough!”